Istanbul

More sculpture from the Istanbul Archeology Museums

This is a statue of Bes from Amanthus (Cyprus).

Bes (also spelled as Bisu) was an Egyptian deity worshipped in the later periods of dynastic history as a protector of households and in particular mothers and children. In time he would be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad. While past studies identified Bes as a Middle Kingdom import from Nubia, some more recent research believes him to be an Egyptian native. Mentions of Bes can be traced to the southern lands of the Old Kingdom; however his cult did not become widespread until well into the New Kingdom.

Modern scholars such as James Romano demonstrated that in its earliest inceptions, Bes was a representation of a lion rearing up on its hind legs.

After the Third Intermediate Period, Bes is often seen as just the head or the face, often worn as amulets. It is theorized that the god Bes came from the Great Lakes Region of Africa, coming from the Twa people (a pygmy group) in Congo or Rwanda. The ancient Twa were about the same height as the depictions of Bes.

Dawn Prince-Hughes lists Bes as fitting with other archetypal long-haired Bigfoot-like ape-man figures from ancient Northern Africa, “a squat, bandy-legged figure depicted with fur about his body, a prominent brow, and short, pug nose.”

Another theory, connected to Bes’s role in both the protection of children and women in labour, is that Bes is the figure of a miscarried fetus. Bes is also known to be wearing a lion skin on his back.

Bes is supposed to be a dwarf — most of statues of Bes are tiny, childsized at most.  This one is gigantic — good 6 meters tall.

My other favorites here are the Kalos — with very Khmer-looking chests; and, of course, the Bull.  Do you have any guesses as to the meaning of this iconography, though (from a 2 c. AD tomb in Sidon):


The Fountain of Life Room at the Çinili Koşk, Istanbul

Istanbul gets very hot and very humid in the summer; the Northwest Room of the Çinili Koşk, once within the walls of Topkapi, was set up as a cool hiding place from the city’s summer heat. Windows and doors open North-West and North-East — the room never catches direct sunlight; and its walls have been decorated with dark blue tile — a pleasant rest for the eyes from the strong Mediterranean sun. The tiles were fired then painted in gold — a very lavish form of decoration since it does not last. A recent restoration wisely repainted only those tiles where gold had been completely lost, but left those which had only been partly worn untouched.

In 1590, a marble fountain had been set into the wall of the room to cool it further.

In 1904, Osman Hamdi Bey (the founder and first director of the Istanbul Archeology Museums, and the excavator of the Sidon Necropolis) painted the fountain:


Two more Hellenic sarcophagi from Sidon (Istanbul Archeology Museums)

Diggins from the Necropolis of Sidon fill five gigantic halls at the Istanbul Archeology Museums. A number of styles are represented, including recycled Egyptian sarcophagi, and the quality of carving is extraordinarily high throughout. Here are two more sarcophagi from the same room where the Alexander Sarcophagus stands.


So-called Alexander’s Sarcophagus at the Istanbul Archeology Museums

The Alexander Sarcophagus is one of four massive carved sarcophagi, forming two pairs, that were discovered during the excavations conducted by Osman Hamdi Bey at the necropolis near Sidon, Lebanon in 1887. Originally thought to have been the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus (died 311 BC), the king of Sidon appointed by Alexander immediately following the Battle of Issus (333), it was demonstrated convincingly by Karl Schefold to have been made before Abdalonymus’s death, its still-classical manner uninfluenced by the style of Lysippos. Some scholars now believe the sarcophagus was made for Mazaeus, a Persian noble and governor of Babylon. Six Ionian sculptors’ hands have been distinguished, working in an Attic idiom, most probably in Sidon.  It now rests behind glass at the Istanbul Archeology Museums.  The quality, accuracy and detail of the carving is absolutely incredible and unmatched by any antique tomb I have seen anywhere.  The sarcophagus was once painted — traces of paint can be clearly seen in several paces — and must have looked a lot like the decor of a South Indian temple.


Iznik pottery at the Çinili Koşk, Istanbul Archeology Museums, Istanbul

The quality of design and painting on this plate richly deserved the painstaking gluing together of the thirty some pieces into which it had been broken. Other delightful pieces at the Çinili Koşk include this fanciful 16th century pitcher (missing a handle), dug up near the Grand Bazaar:

(what would you call this pattern? “Castles in the clouds”? “Earthquake”?)

and two very beautifully painted lamps:


Some Iznik tiles from the Hagia Sofia Mausoleums

Through an unassuming side gate one enters a small compound hugging the western wall of Hagia Sophia. The compound consists of five tombs, four purpose built and one adapted from the former baptistery. The two most beautiful (Selim II and Murat III) can be viewed in a special 3D program to be found here (do not miss this):

Tomb of Sultan Sultan Selim II – 3D Virtual Tour

Tomb of Sultan Sultan Murad III – 3D Virtual Tour

And since 3dmekanlar has done such a superb job photographing the interior, I’ll limit this post to a few tile shots.


Some kilims from the Gülgönen family and Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum collections

Kilims aren’t carpets, they are flat weaves — “tapestry weave” — the same technique used in European tapestries.


Some books at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul – digest

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Istanbul has a rich and very well displayed collection of Islamic illustrated manuscripts ranging from 8th century Baghdadi to 18th century Ottoman. I have placed the whole photo collection online here, but post herewith just a few tidbits to whet your appetite. The above is an 18th century Ottoman manuscript, in principle a ladies delight, but perfectly capable of pleasing a more-is-more kinda guy like yours truly.

The below is a close-up of a section of a page of a large format 16th century Shirazi (Iranian) Quran: note the loving detail of what is essentially barely visible “background”.  Gold “ink” was added in a number of washes with different colors and transparency.

The next page is also from a 16th century Shirazi work. Although the Latin alphabet is more suitable for recording the vowel-rich sounds of the Turkish language, it is difficult not to feel that by abandoning the Arabic script, Turks have deprived themselves of a great deal of pleasure. I like the size of the letters, too: senior-citizen friendly.  (Ahem).  Five lines of text on a page approximately 18 inches high.  The roundels mark ends of verses.

This is an end-piece of another 16th century Shirazi Quran, inscribed — crossword-puzzle-like — with the 99 names of God:

But this 13th century North African Quran is my favorite of the whole collection. How I wish all my books were as delightful to look at!

Finally, there is this: two parallel texts, each in a different color. Makes sense: why read one text, when you can read two simultaneously? For example, you could have Joseph And His Brothers, in black, on top, and As Maias in red on the bottom. Or perhaps you could have Joseph And His Brothers in black on top and a running commentary in red below: “Wow! This is crazy! This sentence is already 22 lines long!” and “How wonderful this amazing symmetry!” Etc.


Carpets at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul

I have been looking at carpets for three years now; but most have been Iranian.  Nothing has prepared me for the utter weirdness — Mars-and-Aztec like — of the Anatolian carpet. I had to get a chair and sit quietly for a quarter of an hour just to allow my mind to settle: like a puppy suddenly thrown among loud strangers, it had panicked and wanted to flee.

The museum’s artificial light fools my camera and there is a net loss of green, of which there is a lot here.  Use your imagination:  the grey areas are dark, dull green.

Nothing remotely as good, or as interesting, in the shops of Istanbul.  The colors, too, are different, more candy-like.

There are good soumaks (a.k.a. rahrahs) — a kind of flat-weave with an invisible structural weft and cicims (embroideries); and all are Iranian; which is great, but not much comfort if you want a carpet to sit on.  (I had determined not to bother with sofas for the living room:  available furniture is ugly and the ridiculous price will buy me a decent rug.  And I am used to, and prefer, sitting on the floor, anyway.  But for this, it has to be a rug, not an flat, bone-crushing flat-weave or embroidery).

My favorite design here is the “DK” — an extraordinary fish-scale pattern (hover your mouse over the photos and their names will appear).


Some Iznik tiles at the Rustem Pasha in Istanbul

My favorite is 7203 (third row, third from the left, it appears on the western wall of the mosque) — the pattern is very fine and very well executed but as you step back from it you notice that the tiny pattern coagulates into a larger pattern of barely suggested circles visible only from afar: a rather neat trick, this.

In the mihrab, the pulpit and again in a decorative panel on the outside wall (its photo appears twice in the 6th row below) is prunus, Ottoman answer to Japanese sakura.  The other day, rather like a certain hero of a certain novel by Orhan Pamuk, stepping out after breakfast onto the rooftop to take in the hazy dawn over the Bosporus, and then turning left and looking up, I saw it, against the background of the Blue Mosque:  unlike Japanese sakura’s, it’s flowering shoots grow bunched up and up-pointing, just as they appear in Iznik patterns.


Why “sex-slave” may sometimes be a highly desirable situation

You pay 10 euros to enter Topkapi and then 10 more to see the Harem.  Which is really a kind of scalping.  Didn’t stop me from doing that three days in a row, though.


Some books at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul – Complete Archive

This is the complete photo archive of the book collection on display at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul. The files are very large (1.5 MB on average) and there are 89 of them, which is why I relegate them here; and only place a digest version on the front page of the blog.