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Carving and cutting wood for Ottoman art
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 09:02 pm

Turks were already skilled woodworkers by the time they left Central Asia for the Middle East. In Anatolia starting with the Seljuk Turks this art and craft continued to decorate public buildings and private houses until the end of the Ottoman Empire

ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

Turkey seems to have lost several of its traditional decorative arts; for example, woodwork among the Turks was spectacular under the Seljuk and Ottoman sultans. Doors, cradles, window shutters, banisters, minbars (pulpits) in mosques and reading stands are only a few of the examples that one can see today rather in photographs than in use.
If you didn't plan anything for this weekend yet, you may want to see some of the fine examples of woodcraft from the past in the Museum of Ethnography in Ankara and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul. The latter has samples from the ninth and tenth centuries, that is, from the Anatolian Seljuks and the subsequent Turkish principalities that sprang up in Anatolia, as well as unique examples of works from Ottoman times. The collection is accompanied by the extensive exhibition entitled “Seek Beauty in Different Cultures” opened May 16. Many smaller museums around the country will have some pieces of carved wood but usually of inferior quality.

Woodworking is both skill and art. It may take years to master the various techniques and get to know different types of wood used: hard (from a fruit or flowering tree) or soft (from a cone-bearing tree), growing in the areas where the woodworker lived. Among the types of tools used in a traditional woodcraft workshop one can mention hammers, chisels, knives, axes, adzes, drills, saws, planes and other.

Woodworking in history

Woodworking history goes back as far as the Neanderthals appeared on the historical stage; in the past the Chinese and the Egyptians made the most extensive use of wood in particular.

The Chinese became masters in making items without the use of glue, while it took a long time for the Egyptians to discover glue for attaching joints and varnish as well.

The ancient Turks were engaged in woodcarving from early on. They brought it with them on the road from Central Asia first via the Seljuk Turks and later the Ottomans. In winter's pastimes it was also useful for nomadic tribes on the move; boxes and chests could always come in handy for valuables when packing. The yurts (circular tents), usually made of wooden latticework and covered with felt, were supported by painted or carved wooden columns. Later a carved wooden door was employed to keep out the cold.

By the time the Seljuks' rose to power, the Turks became very skilled craftsmen and had turned their attention to producing beautiful mosque furniture as required by Muslim tradition: minbars from which the Friday sermon would be given, mihrabs showing the direction of Mecca, and reading stands on which the Qur'an or other religious books were placed for easy reading. The mosque doors, cupboards for keeping books and window frames are also worth mentioning.

Today there are only a few examples of how carved wood had been used in early private homes due to most of the examples were destroyed by natural disasters: 17th century Hadimoğlu Mansion in Bayramiç and the Çakırağa Mansion in Birgi, variously dated between the beginning of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th are among the remains.

Techniques and motifs in Ottoman Turkish woodworking

Walnut, apple, pear, cypress, ebony, cedar and rose are among the favored types of wood. One of the most popular techniques consisted of small geometrically shaped pieces put together to form larger compositions; the grain would be arranged in opposing directions to ensure they wouldn't warp. Not only carved, engraved or inlaid (with mother-of-pearl or ivory) woodwork was popular, but also latticework was admired. Fine grained, varnished wooden pieces were much admired although sometimes paint was applied.

Because of the generally followed Islamic position against portraying humans, geometric forms or plant and flower motifs were primarily used in woodcarving. Between the 11th and 14th centuries, geometric motifs were used generously on Seljuk artifacts and their influence continued through the Period of the Principalities and into the Ottoman Period.

At the beginning of the 15th century, the new flowered style was used together with rumi [curly vine] compositions, as well as separately; 15th and 16th century Ottoman style followed this line. Symmetrical carnations, roses and tulips joined with broad stems and hatayi [large-flower plants] motifs appeared in the flowered style. The çintamani motif of three balls and three wavy lines, used from the 16th century, is seen also on the 17th century mother-of-pearl inlay work. In this period, classical rumi motifs were used within a border or frame.

In the 18th and 19th centuries however, European influences became important to the point where Ottoman woodcarving became indistinguishable from what was being imported. Baroque and Rococo styles gave way to Empire and Eclectic styles in much the same way that Ottoman architecture bowed before western influences. As the tendency had been towards richer and richer decoration and ornamentation, it's not surprising that Baroque and Rococo became popular.

Abstract geometric motifs disappeared in the 18th century and the flowered style was used together with geometric elements; also Rumi motifs gained in volume. In the 19th century, in accordance with the characteristics of the period, oyster shell motifs were applied abundantly to fountain mirrors, palace doors.

It is rare however to see any freestanding wooden sculpture as an object d'art in Turkey with few people engaged in making a sculpture, or a sculpting wood let alone. What freestanding wood sculptures existed as were primarily chess pieces.

It is even more rare to find that one of the sultans was actually an accomplished carpenter. All of the Ottoman sultans were required to earn a trade or develop a skill so Süleyman the Magnificent was a jeweler, Selim III a musician, Ahmet I calligrapher and Abdülhamid II a carpenter. These men were also poets of varying levels of ability. Examples of Abdülhamid II's carpentry can still be seen at Yıldız and Beylerbeyi Palaces where it is said he made the most of the furniture. A desk at Yıldız looks like made by a hand of professional carpenter.

If he hadn't been a sultan, he could easily have earned money at this trade.

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