The Art of Patrons in Bursa

The Art of Patrons in Bursa

We could say that the cultural richness of the Ottomans began with the reign of Sultan Orhan (1326-62), first of all in İznik and then continuing in Bursa. While a lively environment for trade and commerce had taking shape in the city, which was the last stop on the Silk Road, the conquests of Sultan Murad I (1362-89) and Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402) in Rumelia and the pressures they exerted on the Beyliks (principalities or emirates) in Anatolia prompted Muslim leaders of the same period to take action. Ambassadors of the Mameluke sultan, Berkok (d. 1389) and the sultan of Celâyir Sheikh Üves (d.1374) arrived in Bursa and presented the sultan with numerous gifts. By the late 14th  and early 15th century, the military strength of the Ottoman sultans was obvious for leaders of both East and West and Bursa became one of the centers in which the scholars of those centuries were established, like the divine İbn el-Cezeri.

In the center of Bursa, which had witnessed a striking increase in both trade and population, a large mosque surrounded by commercial buildings was under construction. Both Murad I and Bayezit I had had mosque complexes built on the roads leading to the city from east and west. On the other hand, at the beginning of the 15th century the sheikhs (leaders) of various Islamic sects had also moved to the land of the Ottomans, together with their disciples. Thus a number of retreats, dervish convents and religious propaganda centers had come into being in and around Bursa. Timur (d.1405), who arrived from Samarkand and invaded the land of the Ottomans, defeating them in 1402 billeted his army in Kütahya. With the help of Sheikh Emir Nureddin he assembled an army, which entered Bursa. They took a group of eminent divines and koranic scholars back to Kütahya with them which included İbn EI-Cezeri, Molla Fenari and Nakkaü Ali and, upon their arrival in Kütahya he presented them to Timur. In 1403, Timur left Anatolia intending to take İbn EI- Cezeri and Ali Nakkas back to Samarkand with him.

The first ten years after Timur had left, Anatolia witnessed a struggle for the throne between the sons of Bayezid I. This culminated into a victory for Mehmet I (1413-21). According to the historian Aşıkpaşazâde the vizier of the period,  Hacı  İvaz Pasha, had brought to Bursa a number of leading practitioners of the fine arts from other countries and started a tradition of banquets in which enameled porcelain bowls were used. It was at that time that Ali Nakkas returned from Samarkand to Bursa and started to work on the decorations of the Sultan Mehmed's  mosque, the architecture of which was  the  work  of  Hacı  İvaz Pasha. Mehmet Mecnun, Hacı Ali b. Ahmed Tebrizi and other master craftsmen all worked with Ali Nakkaş, transferring his designs onto enameled tiles, plaster marble and wood. Thus, in the early 1420’s a veritable Garden of Eden, the colors, design and technique of which has remained unsurpassed in Anatolian Turkish architecture, was created in Bursa. The designs of Ali Nakkaş were used throughout the first half of the 15th century to adorn the covers of books, the blue and white tiles of İznik and fabrics as well.

The establishment of academic organizations in the Ottoman period, the production of works by the men who worked for these organizations and the specialists that the organizations had produced an environment that was conducive to the formation of libraries. The further strengthening of the Ottoman hegemony towards the end of the 14th century encouraged the scholars who had previously worked under the patronage of the Ottoman beyliks and gone to the leading mediaevel centers of scholarship and refinement, such as Egypt, Horasan and the other side of the Amu Darya for further education to return to Anatolia and continue their work under these new patrons. At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries, there were more than ten madrasas in İznik and Bursa. Although there is no documentary evidence to prove that there were libraries in these madrasas, it is a known fact that there were libraries to accommodate books in the madrasas at Balıkesir and Bolu.

It was Umur Bey who drew up a set of rules regarding the protection and the use of the scientific books he had bequeathed under the terms of a pious foundation to the libraries of the madrasas and mesjids attached to the soup kitchens in Bursa and Bergama in the mid. 15th century. Hand-written works which were to enrich the store of knowledge already acquired in the art of book and cover design in particular were among the books bequeathed by Umur Bey. Umur Bey, who died in 1461, occupied a senior position in the reigns of the Ottoman sultans Emir Süleyman I, Mehmed I and Murad II. He had had scholarly works in Arabic and Farsi translated into Turkish, both enriching the body of work written in the Turkish language and assisting the scholars who carried out these translations. Ahmed Dai, one of the poets and scholars of the period, must have played an important part in arousing the interest of the sultans under whose patronage he worked with his translations, some of which had been carried out at the request of Umur Bey.

Some of the books bequeathed by Umur Bey are in the library at İnebey, Bursa. These books consist of the Arabic commentaries of the Koran, and their Turkish translations, all of which were carried out between 1435 and 1451. The foundation records on the first or last pages of these books are present. In one of them, there is a list of the books bequeathed by Umur Bey’s father Timurtaş Pasha, to the Mesjid of the soup kitchen. Also in the deeds of foundation drawn up by Umur Bey are a set of conditions regarding the protection and lending of the books he had bequeathed, which are an important landmark in the history of Turkish librarianship. The covers of the books of Umur Bey in the İnebey Library in Bursa have been designed with great originality. On the outside of the front cover of the books, which are bound in maroon or brown leather is a round “Şemse”, or sun-symbol, the inside is adorned with intertwined stylised leaf designs; the “Şemse” on the back cover is oval, with a bouquet of flowers springing from it in a manner that suggests a vase. These circular forms full of intertwined stylized leaf patterns can also be seen on the enameled wall tiles of the Mosque and Tomb of  Mehmed I in Bursa, the bouquet design on the wall tiles of the mosque and in the painted designs on the central dome. A block mold has been used to apply motifs such as eight-pointed stars, cruciform designs, hexagons, four pointed stars, circles arranged along an axis, branch and flower patterns to the light brown leather covers of the volumes. The names of the book-binders, Haydar bin Turbesi or Hasan, talismanic expressions and words of praise for an emir in all probability Umur Bey, can be discerned.  (İnebey Library, Hüseyin Çelebi, 481 , General, 931, Ulu Cami Mosque, 318, 324, 315) and, as is obvious from the rich ornamentation of the bindings of the books bequeathed by Umur Bey, in  the fırst half of the 15th century there was a fertile and creative school of ornamentation in Bursa. We can also say that, the first department of design and ornamentation present in the Ottoman palaces, where these original Turkish designs were produced, was founded in Bursa.

A Koran of a monumental size with a magnificent binding inlaid in gold which is a major work of the art of book-binding was produced in Bursa in 1435, in all probability for Murad II. (Bursa, Museum of Islamic Works, No:207). Other examples of the achievements of this exquisite art in Bursa are a “Divan” (“body of poetic works) written by Ahmet Dai, belonging to Mehmet I (İnebey Library, Orhan C. 1196) and the Divan of Cem  Sultan (İnebey Library, Haraçcı 913). It is known that gifts were presented to Murad I and Bayezid I by the ambassadors of the Mameluke sultan, who visited these rulers in Bursa; among the gifts were sumptuously bound copies of the Koran (Bursa, Museum of Islamic Works, No:206). Thus, Bursa’s rich treasury of books was formed on the one hand by gifts and on the other by books written under the patronage of art and book-loving sultans, crown princes and statesmen, particularly in the early 15th century.