WE DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT BIHZAD’S PERSONALITY AND HIS LIFE, BUT A LOT ABOUT HIS WORKS. MANY WORKS OF HIM ARE EXHIBITED AT THE TOPKAPI PALACE.
We call even our own arts using names given by foreigners, because we lost touch with our origins. We use the word ‘calligraphy’ instead of ‘hat’ and ‘miniature’ instead of ‘tasvir.’ We seem to forget that words have personalities, too. The clearness, power, and sharpness in the word ‘hat’ doesn’t comply with the intricate and dim air of the word ‘calligraphy.’ ‘Hat’ suits mosques the best in architecture, because ‘hat’ is sunny just like mosques are. There is no doubt that ‘calligraphy’ suits the complicated and dusky buildings just as itself.
The story of the words ‘tasvir’ and ‘miniature’ is not different. ‘Miniature’ is small and clumsy; ‘tasvir’ is bright and simple. In fact, when you look at the origin of ‘miniature’ you will realize that it is the word that is used to describe small illustrations, which used to take place in the Latin books during the Renaissance in Italy. The definition of ‘tasvir’ is visualization, portraying, and making something visible. By ‘tasvir’ you make something visible to eye. That is why when we explain something in detail using words; we also make a ‘tasvir.’ We can say with comfort that, ‘miniature’ targets to minimize, ‘tasvir’ targets to make things visible to eye.
Is ‘tasvir’ forbidden?
Let’s get to the Islamic art of ‘tasvir’ and the greatest name of this art Kemaleddin Bihzad…
Ban of ‘tasvir’ in Islam is a subject that is mostly about rumors than facts and many books have been written on it. Let’s stop speculating and summarize the information part: there are three widespread views in Islam whether ‘tasvir’ being forbidden or not. The first one; this one is based on some hadiths attributed to the companions of the prophet such as Ibn-Abbas and Abu Hureyre; it suggests that ‘tasvir’ of every existence with a shadow and form is forbidden. The second one; questions the mentioned hadiths which no one with a good mental health would accept this one because the hadiths are correct. According to the third one, on which the Islamic art of ‘tasvir’ is based in its essence, ‘tasvir’ is free as long as it is not the subject of faith and worship. So, if you are not making an idol or if you are not going to interfere with worshipping of a Muslim, making ‘tasvir’ is not a problem.
‘Tasvir’ in Islam first appeared as murals and embossments decorating the architectural structures constructed by the Umayyad dynasty. They were in the Hellenistic style and obscene in places. That’s why they were ruined before even they could reach public, they couldn’t even leave the Umayyad palace life. Adopting the Hellenistic naturalism and looseness was impossible for Muslims.
The actual birth of ‘Tasvir’, the Islamic art of painting, was first through painting scientific works and later literary works. Simple black-white illustrations that were drawn in the medical books that were translated from Greek have turned into colorful, detailed, illuminated art works of ‘tasvir.’
An art capital: Herat
Iraq-Umayyad tradition of illustrated books and Central Asia-Uyghur tradition of murals merged in Iran during the Ilkhanids and Timurids period. In each of the palaces of Herat, Tabriz, Shiraz, small armies of artists were employed. Each of these cities is considered as an art school today, because they always kept their unique styles.
An orphan painter named Bihzad, who had lived in the last age of the Timurids dynasty and the first age of the Safavids dynasty, would carry this art to its summit. We don’t know much about his personality or his life, but we know a lot about his works. Today, many of his works are exhibited at the Topkapı Palace. The actual birth date of his is not known; however, it is widely accepted as 1450. He was an orphan. It is said that he was raised under the protection of a famous artist named Mirek Nakkaş; he was a good friend of the great Turkish poet Ali Şir Nevai. During his youth, Herat was ruled by Hüseyin Baykara. Baykara is known with his protective manners for artists and literature artists. Herat was an arts and literature paradise in the second half of the 15th century. As Ali Şir Nevai produced his great works with his eastern Turkish, he also had the production of illustrated books to reach its summit at the famous book house.
Bihzad who began to work as an orphan apprentice was working as the lead painter when Herat was captured by the Safavids. He was not much productive during the Safavids period due to his advanced age. However, he doesn’t have many works from that period. The golden age of both Herat School and Bihzad is the Timurids period when he produced works under Hüseyin Baykara’s protection.
The man whom Yavuz and Shah Ismail fought over
According to Mustafa Ali of Gallipoli, after Sultan Selim ‘Yavuz’ defeats Shah Ismail at the Battle of Chaldiran, Shah thanks to God for finding Bihzad at the cave where he had him hidden before the battle. In that age, there was a great competition between the shahs and sultans to attract artists and poets into their own palaces. The story told by Mustafa Ali can be taken as an indicator of the importance of Bihzad as a painter. In fact, Shah Ismail took him to Tabriz in the same year.
There were two styles until Bihzad
In the Islamic art of painting called ‘tasvir’ or ‘hurde-nakş’ there were two great styles until Bihzad. The first one was called Baghdad or Seljuk style, which we can also say an Arab-Turk combination. It doesn’t include details; it is mostly symbolic with no sense of movement, simple and mature. The second one is called the Mongolian style and it was developed under the protection of the Ilkhanids. It values nature and decoration elements less; uses the human face in detail as it pictures humans in motion; it offers a realistic perspective.
Tendency to realism was lived short in the Mongolian style. Symbolism began to dominate since the second half of the 14th century. The Iranian painters began to care about decoration and ornamentation more than figure and perspective during the Timurids and Safavids period compared to the Ilkhanids period.
This new style had reached to its summit with Bihzad. It is possible to consider his style as a school itself. His painting can be characterized as a harmonized plurality. At first look, his paintings resemble colorful blasts; however, when they are observed closely, one would realize the use of colorful details with great mastery. It is possible to call Bihzad lyric compared to the epic characteristics of the Mongolian style. Let’s remind that he mostly illustrated the books of poetry. Bihzad brought elegance into ‘miniature.’ He combined his inspirations from the realism of the Mongolian style with the symbolism of the Baghdad style. Lively paintings with movements came into existence thanks to him. His war paintings are especially worth seeing.
The influences of his art lasted for centuries. He died in Tabriz in either 1535 or 1536.