The Art of Illumination

Illumination (tezhib) is a decorative art applied on paper and various surfaces by using natural and synthetic paints, gold wash of different carats and colors, and ink, and with thin brushes. An illuminated work is described as muzehheb and the illuminator is called the muzehhib/muzehhibe. Illumination generally accompanies and decorates works of calligraphy. It was transmitted from teacher to pupil in the traditional way and acquired added significance in Islamic culture due to the respected status attached to the book, owing to the Holy Qur’an. A manuscript book would contain illuminated areas and elements, including the front endpaper, frontispiece, chapter headings, rosettes, markers, and back endpaper. Works of illuminations are found not only in books but also as part of other manuscript and artistic works, such as calligraphy panels, hilyas (calligraphic portraits of the Prophet saw), qitas (rectangular calligraphic compositions), muraqqas (albums), firmans (decrees) and tughras (monograms). In our time, illumination is a panel art rather than a book art. There are different types of illumination motifs, such as hatayī, rumī, bulut (cloud), munhanī (curve), etc.; different motifs can be combined in a single piece of work as long as they are not aligned with each other. Various techniques, such as plain illumination, halkāri (shading with dissolved gold), tarama (sweeping), çifttahrir (double outlining), zerefşan (gold sprinkling) and zerenderzer (gold-on-gold) are applied to produce the different parts and elements of a composition. The art of illumination constantly evolved during the Herat, Ilkhanid, Mamluk, Timurid, Safavid, Seljukid and Ottoman periods; it was enriched with changes of materials, colors, uses of gold, motifs and techniques. In recent history, it was perfected with the contributions of artists such as Abdullah Shīrāzī, Baba Nakkaş, Şahkulu, Karamemi, Ali Ūskūdarī, İsmail Hakkı Altunbezer, Rikkat Kunt and Muhsin Demironat; today, it continues to be practiced by a growing number of artists throughout the world.

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