Monday, January 17, 2011

Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

The collections of the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum occupy the top floor of a U-shaped palace, the former residence of Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasa. Walking from the Blue Mosque across the Hippodrome, we entered the museum and climbed the wide stone staircases. The long hallway at the top has numerous small rooms along its length, full of glass-cased objects. There are some beautiful pieces here, and some historically important objects, but, to our eyes, the stars of this museum are at the end of this hall: the large palace carpets and glittering illuminated books. These treasures are displayed in the high-ceilinged, pallicial South wing. 

We were expecting to be interested in these carpets, but our reaction was more of awe than curiousity. The longer we looked, the more we were drawn in. One carpet, depicting a garden, uses the strangest visual language, one that seems related to minaturist paintings. All the trees and plants are flattened down so that the viewer sees both the birds eye view of the symmetrical garden plan, and the individual foliage from the ground perspective. We originally assumed that the straight sections dividing the garden were footpaths, but, on a later visit, a student pointed out that these were waterways with fish in them. The carpet looks so symmetrical, but there are little individual animals and details scattered all through the pattern.  

The sense of movement within patterns that, at first glance, look symmetrical, is mesmerizing. It is repetition, but not machine repetition. More like a continuous knitting together of the whole, with subtle shifts of form and color. The scale of these pieces is fantastic. Even though they weren't meant to be seen on the wall, we love encountering them in this way, being overwhelmed and enveloped in color and pattern.

A Qiblanuma: an astronomical instrument that helps find the direction of the Ka'ba' in Mecca.  

We often see this type of tile in mosques. It depicts the Ka'ba', the cube-shaped black building, the holiest site in Islam.

With it's missing boarder, this off-balance grand carpet is one of our favorites. 

The "Garden Carpet" 

Detail of the Garden Carpet with a smashed down tree and fish. 

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts students looking at illuminated Korans.

Illuminated Koran


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