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The Coolest Artist Who Might've Never Existed

October 25, 2010

There are, I guess, some people out there who get wild about Ottoman Miniature. I can appreciate Iznik tiles, sure. And I like my carpets. But I was never one for miniature. Can never imagine why.


So while I respect the craft and all, it’s not really my thing. And then, when reading the introduction about an upcoming concert in Istanbul, I came across this quote:

My name is Mehmed, the black pencil, master of humans and demons…

And wow, how cagey is that? This is the time when artists, especially in the Iran/Turan tradition, never get their names cited. And here comes this dude, calling himself the master. I scoffed too, until I saw the work.

Cool, huh?

Not only cool, but completely unlike anything else in the Topkapi Collection, where it was held. It didn’t help that apparently the collection was put in scrapbook style in Fatih Sultan Selim’s collection. Some experts think there was originally one scroll that held all the illustrations as a continuous story, some think that the illustrations are done by a dozen people over a century. There is absolutely no clue as to how they got there. It’s not mentioned in the historiography at all, which is weird for such, um, noticeable stuff.

Muslim Orthodoxy: This is not it

And then there’s also my favorite plot twist of it. says that the illustrations were first exhibited in 1910. Cool site I had before my computer crashed trying to open a 2gb .jpg said that these illustrations were actually a recent construction, made to look aged. I don’t put any stock in internet rumors, of course, but man, I love the story.

There are definite Chinese influences, of course. And Ottoman and Persian art was pretty much interchangable (though I’m sure someone who is more of an art snob than me would love to disagree). But the amount of kinetic energy and the personalities of the figures is pretty rare. And to me, pretty awesome. I know the Ottoman sultants loved their felicity and calmness and all of that. But the sheer rage of demons fighting is pretty cool, too. The artist must have been confident in his iconoclasm, and indeed, to be such a wildly different painter than anyone else must’ve made him feel like a “Master.”

He also may be the same person as one Heratli Muhamamd Nakkas, also known as “The Wild Uygur.” If you want to know why I love Central Asia, its because in an Istanbul palace lies illustrations by a man named Mehmed who might have been a whole school named Mehmed, or a man from Herat with an Arabic name and called an Uygur. Yes.

The whole story makes about as much sense as this picture

The Encyclopedia Britannica, in its beige glory, can only say that he “flourished in the 15th century” in, uh, Turkestan or Iran. There just simply isn’t a lot out there about the most iconoclastic painter of the Muslim world. A lot of other respectable sources put him more at the 14th century, which could certainly be true as well.

So if you’re into art at all you should definitely check this sort of thing out. Attached is a little one-page .pdf that talks about this sort of thing and mentions experts to contact if you’re interested. There’s also a 60TL (~$40) book of his work that’s probably worth buying – at least I’m considering it.

And finally, if you are studying Ottoman art or any sort of thing like it…for goodness’ sake, let us know! We’d love to have a more academic slant to this blog, but its simply not our forte. If you’d like to write about Turkey or Turania, send an e-mail, please.


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