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THE TURKISH ART OF MARBLING (EBRU)

Marbling is the art of creating colorful patterns by sprinkling and brushing color pigments on a pan of oily water and then transforming this pattern to paper. The special tools of the trade are brushes of horsehair bound to straight rose twigs, a deep tray made of unknotted pinewood, natural earth pigments, cattle gall and tragacanth. It is believed to be invented in the thirteenth century Turkistan. This decorative art then spread to China, India and Persia and Anatolia. Seljuk and Ottoman calligraphers and artists used marbling to decorate books, imperial decrees, official correspondence and documents. New forms and techniques were perfected in the process and Turkey remained the center of marbling for many centuries. Up until the 1920's, marblers had workshops in the Beyazit district of Istanbul, creating for both the local and European market, where it is known as Turkish marble paper.

The Art of Marbling

Talik calligraphy done on lightly marbled paper, decorated with sand marbling in the inner border and oversized marbling around the exterior.

Following its acceptance of the Islamic faith, the Turkish nation so bound itself to that religion that there was not another on earth which had so devoted its blood in the name of God.

Becoming on the one hand the Sword of Islam and conquering countries in God's name, at the same time, it dedicated nearly all its art to the most beautiful expression of the pine; for the most part in its music, in its architecture, in its calligraphy, and in its decorative arts, the Turkish nation dealt with that which was mystical. Indeed, quite a few branches of the arts were developed in religious lodges, yet out of the humbleness afforded by dervish training no signatures are to be seen below them.

a perfect pattern lying between the tidal marbling passion flower marbling.

Just as in the case of the development of the art of Turkish architecture, where the primary element was the architecture of the mosque and this art gave life to a great number of other branches of the arts such as tile making, marble working, glass making, wood carving, and mother of pearl inlaying, so too did the Turks accept the Arabic alphabet (which gained importance with the Koran) as another main branch of the arts, and they developed six separate styles.

Together with these six styles of writing developed under the heading of the art of calligraphy, holy verses and traditions were worked into all media from paper to cardboard, and from large cloth panels to marble, wood, tile, and metal. Decorators framed these writings with beautiful figures, gilders gilded them, decorated them, adorned them. It was in this way that subsidiary branches of art arose which embellished the art of calligraphy, and at the head of these come the arts of, illumination, ornamentation, marbling, and bookbinding.

Old-style floral marbling

The art of marbling, our subject here then, is the art of obtaining the paper dyed in a myriad of colors which was used for decoration in the art known as calligraphy. Coming over the Silk Road to Anatolia from the Turks ancient homeland, the art set out from Bukhara in Turkestan, picked up its name (ebru) in Iran, and settled in Anatolia. Was the name it acquired from Farsi ebri on account of its cloud-like appearance? Or was it ab-ru because it was created on water in a vessel? This is not very clear. In the West however this art is referred to as "Turkish marbled Paper".

In our museums and in private collections one finds examples of paper marbling which go back as far as 450 years from the present day. A determination of date is possible in the case of marbled paper on which something has been written, and for this reason one perhaps may be able to determine the name of the calligrapher. The name of the artist doing the marbling however remains unknown. The earliest marbling artist whose name has been determined to date is that of one with the by-name "Sebek", mention of which is made in the Tertib-I Risale-i Ebri ("Organised Treatise on Marbling"), which is the oldest document relating the methods and constituents of marbling, as published by Mr. Ugur Derman in his book on the art of marbling. In this treatise, which was written in A.H. 1017 (1608), mention is made of this artist with the entreaty "God Grant Him Rest", and it is not even known how long it was before the treatise was written that the artist lived. In a manuscript copy of the work of the poet Fuzuli, Hadikat-üs Süeda ("Garden of Delights") which came into my possession through the offices of Mr. Kemal Elker, a little more light is thrown on the subject in three aspects:

First, on the title page of the book the phrase Ma Sebek Mehmed Ebrisi is added in red ink after the designation of the title Hadikat-üs Süeda of the work. From this formulation, the meaning of which is "With Marbling by Sebek Mehmet", we learn that the calligrapher employed this marbled paper among the pages when copying the book, and more important, that the name of this artist with the by-name "Sebek" was "Mehmet".

Second, the final page of the book ends "Katib-ül harf Ahmet Hasan yeniçer-i korucuyan-i dergâh-i âli fi beldet ül Trablus Sam fi zeman defterdar Mehmet efendi. Sene 1004. "This volume was written by Ahmed son of Hasan. Gaurd in the Janissary corps when Mehmet Efendi was Director of Finance in Trablus Syria. Year: 1004".

The importance of the date here is the fact that it indicates that the marbling of Sebek Mehmet Efendi were in use in A.H. 1004 (1595). Most probably the artist himself was still alive at the time.

Floral marbling, pansy and poppies compositions

Third, three marbling by Sebek Mehmed Efendi were used in the book, and it is these which are most important from the standpoint of light they cast on the history of art and of marbling. These are of the grayish-white type known as "Porphyry Marbling", and resemble veined marble. It may be regarded as the grandfather of the so-called "Floral Marbling", which is a grayish-yellow. The red and blue marbling on the other hand is of a type which is intermediary to the "Passion Flower" and "Tidal" types of marbling. All three examples show that Mehmet Efendi was a marbler of advanced skill. Indeed, the "Light Marbling", which was used to be written upon is the type requiring the greatest skill in this art.

The first person whose name was given to his style of marbling in this art was Mehmed Efendi, a preacher at Ayasofya Mosque who lived around 1770 and 1773. By means of a few nested motifs done in the form of flowers or stars, a new style was born in the art of marbling. This style, called Hatip Ebrusu ("Preacher's Marbling") was the next advance after Sebek Mehmed Efendi in the search for flowers in the art of marbling, and we may regard this as being the father of "Floral Marbling".

The Chain of Tradition

Like all the classical Ottoman arts, the art of marbling was one which was not taught by writing or explanation, but rather was a branch of art in which students were trained by means of the "master/apprentice" system. The ability to turn out marbling which was truly beautiful was something of which only artists who had devoted years -and even their lives- to this art could be worthy.

a composition with tulips

Nevertheless, for one reason or another, this deep-rooted Turkish art has lost its historical prevalence, and has only managed to survive down to the present day thanks to the last four links in the master/apprentice chain of which we shall now make mention.

Sadik Efendi from Bukhara (?-1846), sheik of the Uzbek Lodge in Üsküdar, himself learned the art of marbling in Bukhara, and taught it to his son, Edhem Efendi, who subsequently became sheik of the same lodge. This man of science, who was a master of many branches of the arts and sciences, taught the art of marbling to Necmettin Okyay, a calligrapher, gilder, and bookbinder who managed to combine a large number of arts in a single personality.

Necmettin Okyay (1883-1976) turned out a considerable number of exquisite marblings in addition to which he opened a new age in the style of "Floral Marbling" which until then had undergone much primitive experimentation yet had failed to achieve anything specific in form. It was he who produced marblings which resulted in near-depictions of tulips, daisies, hyacinths, poppies, carnations, pansies, and rosebuds. The Floral Marblings of this style began to be referred to a "Necmettin Marbling". At last, marbling was no longer a colored piece or paper adorning a piece of writing: it had now been raised to the level of a work of art in and of itself and worthy of its own study.

Notwithstanding the large number of students which he trained, Mustafa Düzgünman, is the sole name in the art of marbling today. He has produced exquisite works both in the floral marbling instituted by his teacher (master) Necmettin Efendi, and at the same time in all the other types of marbling as well. Born in 1920, Düzgünman still pursues his art today.

Performance of the Art

Marbling begins first with the dissolving in water of tragacanth, a white material derived from a plant which grows in Anatolia. A type of gum, tragacanth gives the water a degree of viscosity. A vessel with the approximate dimensions of the paper to be marbled is filled with this liquid to depth of about six centimeters. At the same time, earth-based dyes in various colors are thoroughly crushed with a specially-shaped pestle on a marble slab and are reduced to powder. Each of these dyes is placed in a separate glass jar and mixed with a small amount of water. Into each is added five ten drops of ox bile (previously boiled to prevent it from spoiling). When added to the water of the dyes, this material spreads on the surface (not unlike olive oil) and it ensures that the dyes superimposed on one another do not become mixed. These liquefied dyes are removed from their jars one after another by means of special coarse horsehair brushes and sprinkled onto the tragacanth solution. Each of the dyes added spread one onto the other producing attractive figures. With the marbling vessel, a sheet of an appropriate absorbent paper with exactly the same dimensions as the vessel is placed, and an image of the all the dyes on the surface of the water is absorbed by the paper. Next the paper is removed and left to dry, while the vessel is ready for another marbling. In this way, hundreds of marblings may be made, but with time the dyes in the vessel slowly become grainy, at this point, dyes (mostly blue ones) prepared with turbot bile rather than ox bile are added in the exact center of the vessel until they have spread over the entire surface. From this one obtains the final output of the vessel: "Sand Marbling" or "Fishbone Marbling".

oversized marbling

If no intervention is made in the dyes sprinkled into the vessel on the other hard, an antique style of marbling known as "Oversized Marbling" is obtained. Nevertheless, this may be given form by means of a thin piece of wire (or a needle), producing such types of marbling known as "Tidal", "Passion Flower", and "Nightingale's Nest". If a special comb studded with nails is dragged through the sprinkled dyes, the result is "Serrated Marbling".

To produce floral marbling, a light-colored ground is prepared as "Oversized Marbling", after which the green dye which has been added is drawn and stretched by means of a needle -almost as if it were rubber- to provide the shapes of stems and leaves. The colors which will serve as the blossom on the upper end of the stem are added in drops and given shape. From here on, the beauty of the flower is dependent upon the artist's skill.

Instead of marbling which decorates the edges of a piece of writing, there is also a style which assumes the form of the calligraphy itself. In this, the dyes sprinkled in the vessel are brought into harmony on the one hand, while on the other, a calligrapher writes out the work on a piece of blank marbling paper using a reed pen dipped in glue rather than in ink. Written in glue, this calligraphy is invisible when dried, but when immersed in the vessel, these parts do not absorb the dyes, and the white areas on the marbled paper are revealed. This is known as "Written Marbling". Using the same technique, a rectangular section in the center of a light-marbled piece of paper is coated in glue, and then the paper is immersed in a vessel in which darker-colored dyes are predominant. This produces Akkase Ebru (literally, "two-toned marbling") with the lighter-colored marbling in the center, on which something may be written.

Nowadays, at a time when the art of calligraphy has lost its currency, the art of marbling, like a painting, caresses the eye all on its own in a variety of compositions. Used in the production of exquisite bookbinding, the art of marbling has also been extended to use as an element of decoration on tiles by the architect Himmi Senalp. Another artist whose work is appreciated is that of our colleague and marbler Nedim Sönmez, who has brought off what may be styled as a "revolution" in the art of marbling, having achieved a degree of success previously unattained in the matter of "pictorial marbling" or "pictures with marbling". This marbling work, carried out jointly with his wife Yvonne, acts as a short of ambassador in representation of our country in a great number of exhibitions abroad.

Note: In the preparation of this article, use was also made of the book Türk Sanatında Ebru, written by Mr. M. Ugur Derman and the sole work on this subject.

Ebrî : cloud
Abrû : water surface

Source: Antika, The Turkish Journal Of Collectable Art, May1986 Issue:14
By
: Isik Yazan

Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

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