The handwritten books that arrived at the Palace Treasury from all over the globe when the Ottoman Empire ruled the four corners of the earth are among the most valuable items in the Topkapi Palace Museum today.

The Library of Topkapi Palace Museum contains thousands of such manuscripts, in a building called Yeni Kutuphane or New Library. Manuscripts acquired by purchase and donation after the conversion to a museum are entered in the register as ‘Newly Arrived Manuscripts’. The library also has a section of calligraphic specimens by Turkish calligraphers. Also exhibited here are the tools of the calligraphic trade.

There are about 14,000 manuscripts in the library. There are close to 18,000 miniatures, most of which are in the Treasury Library, which exhibit the characteristics of the various schools and styles, spread over a broad geography, of Islamic representational art. Albums and books of miniatures representing the finest work of Arabic, Seljuk, Mongol (Ilkhanid), Timurid, Uzbek, Karakoyunlu and Akkoyunlu Turkmen, Safavid, Mamluk and Ottoman palace calligraphers make up the most valuable section of the palace library. With miniatures in some 600 albums and books on science, history, religion and literature, the Topkapi Palace Museum Library has one of the richest collections in the world. The palace collection of illuminated manuscripts produced for prominent patrons of art throughout the Islamic world during its history through gifts, plunders and purchases, was further enriched by works produced by palace artists, not to mention all the Ottoman sultans who devoted themselves to the art of the book.

It is well known that hundreds of artists were employed by the palace, each with his own style, secrets of color, and views on space and perspective, and that competition was fierce among them. Contemporary historians also write that members of the dynasty and high-ranking palace officials bought and collected works of miniatures to present to the sultan as gifts on various occasions. Contemporary histories and albums of wedding and circumcision processions report that the sultans received large numbers of rare books especially on such festive occasions, on holidays and on their return from military campaigns. Most of the manuscript works in the palace library were acquired when valuable items were appropriated by the palace following the deaths of grand vezirs, ministers and other high-ranking men of state who left no heirs or who were dismissed or executed.

As far as the records show, there was no library serving the Enderun, the highest school of public administration of the day, until the period of Ahmed III. From time to time the Ottoman sultans took books from the palace treasury into the Harem and privy chambers of the Enderun to form libraries of illuminated manuscripts, as well as Qurans penned by prominent calligraphers and other works in which they had a personal interest, but when they died such works reverted to the palace treasury. Ahmed III was first sultan who founded the first library and endowed it with books. This library, construction of which he commissioned to enable the eunuchs of the Enderun, to avail themselves of the books in the palace treasury, was opened in 1718. Later, with the development of the concept of librarianship, certain books from the Treasury were bequeathed to the pavilions that surrounded the palace Privy Chamber. Such libraries were set up in the Revan and Baghdad Pavilions during the reign of Murad IV in the 18th century.

Besides works in Turkish, Persian and Arabic, the palace library also has manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Armenian, Serbian, Hebrew and Assyrian, some of which contain miniatures. These books are exhibited from time to time. Scholars may obtain an appointment to use this priceless library by submitting an application describing their field of work to the General Directorate of Museums and Cultural Assets. Comprehensive catalogues, of Islamic manuscripts by Fehmi Ethem Karatay and of non-Islamic works by D. Adolf Deissman, are also available.


That the earliest examples of Turkish illumination were produced in the period of the Anatolian Seljuks is apparent from the few handwritten works that have come down to us. On a few such manuscripts, dated and undated, which are assumed to have been prepared in Anatolia, probably in the 13th century, we see the rumis (split leaves), interwoven patterns and geometric designs over scrolling branches were used as decorative motifs in titles and sometimes between the various parts of the tile text. The illumination style of the Anatolian Seljuks continued to be used in certain works produced in Konya region in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In early Ottoman manuscripts, the existence of a brand new style of illumination, born of the fusion of divergent influences, is evident at first glance. These motifs, which are unique to the splendid art forms developed within the context of the Ottoman Palace, are observable in the decoration of books as well. In the beginning a style of illumination was created which incorporated certain motifs derived in part from the origins of the circle of painters and illuminators working for the Palace; and in part from the impact on art of the conquered lands themselves. In general, rumis superimposed over scrolling branches and hatayis (stylized composite blossoms) of Far Eastern origin were used – sometimes on their own and sometimes in conjunction with one another in registers. The manifold compositional possibilities inherent in the rumi-the most popular and frequently employed decorative motif in Turkish art, especially since the time of the Anatolian Seljuks- were exploited to the full. In such compositions the influence of Timurid art is evident.

Rumis were usually used in conjunction with palmettes and lotus blossoms. In the arts of the book, the influences of the existing Mamluk school and the art of the Heart and Shiraz schools of the Timurid period were gradually assimilated in the organization and decoration of books in the first half of the 15th century. Then, in the second half of the century, an original style of decoration took shape.

Illuminations characteristic of the early Ottoman period were apparently included in certain works prepared in the time of Sultan Murad II, probably in the Palace at Edirne. Although the surviving manuscripts reflect Mamluk and Timurid (Shiraz) influences in their decorative motifs, their composition is uniquely Ottoman (for example, Topkapı Palace Museum Library, R.1726).

The style, organization, and color composition of the illuminations made in the second half of the 15th century, especially for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, are both highly original and extremely consistent. An illuminated frontispiece typical of this period appears in a work titled Å¿erh el-Hamase, copied for the treasury of the Sultan and bearing the date Zilhicce 869 (July 1465) (Topkapı Palace Museum Library, R.106). All the motifs, as well as the utilization of the surface area, are in the 15th century Ottoman illumination style. Not only rumis but also small stylized flowers and hatayis feature prominently in illumination of this period. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror’s high level of culture and ardent interest in books led to preparation of a large number of scientific, religious and literary works, in which lively shades of dark blue, red, green and black were used harmoniously in combination with gilding. The Korans written in the naskh script by the famous Turkish calligrapher Å¿eyh Hamdullah during the reign of Sultan Beyazid II exhibit rich illumination. During this period at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century, the cloud band is also observed to have joined the repertoire of Turkish illumination motifs.

In Korans of this period the opening pages are generally illuminated as are the beginnings of the Fatiha and Bakara suras, as well as the other chapter headings, with verse stops and marginal ornaments, while the finispiece at the end takes the form of illuminated facing pages. These illuminations consist of medallions, rumis and in particular scrolling branches with hatayis and cloud bands done in gilding and various tones of dark blue, light blue, orange, black, green, yellow, pink and white (for example, Topkapi Palace Museum Library,E.H.72).

The second important period in Ottoman Turkish illumination coincides with the first half of the 16th century. These years, in which a variety of styles an motifs were created, prepared the ground for the classical Turkish style of illumination. When Sultan Selim l entered Tabris following the victory at ÿaldiran in 1514, a group of artists from Heart took refuge with him and a group of Tabriz artists were sent to Istanbul, thus opening the door to certain influences in art. These extremely short-lived influences on Ottoman Palace art were also reflected in the arts of the book. The influence of certain forms and of the extremely ornamental style developed in Heart at the end of the 15th century is evident in illumination motifs. Finely executed concentric scrolls and equally finely executed rumis become widespread in book illumination at this time.

The most magnificent examples of the Ottoman Turkish art of illumination were produced during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566). The painter Sah Kulu, an exile from Tabriz who was appointed head of the Palace nakkashane (painting atelier) when Suleyman succeeded to the throne in 1520, introduced a new style to Ottoman art and to book illumination and won great favor among the Palace illuminators. According to 18th century Ottoman sources, this new style was known as the saz style. In it the stylized composite blossoms of Far Eastern origin, known as hatayis, were handled very differently from those of their 15th century predecessors, being cast in novel forms combined with twisting and turning serrate leaves with pointed tips.

Towards the middle of the 16th century a sudden enrichment took place in the vocabulary of Turkish decorative motifs. In this period the illuminator Kara Memi, who had been trained by Sah Kulu, was placed in charge of the Palace painting atelier, and the stylized hatayis introduced into Ottoman art by Å¿ah Kulu gave way to the flowers cultivated in the Palace gardens – tulips, roses, hyacinths, flowering fruit trees, cypresses and pomegranates. Through this innovation introduced by Kara Memi, flowers depicted through the eye of a careful observer became the central theme of all Ottoman decoration. The most prized illuminations bearing Kara Memi’s signature can be seen in a copy of the Divan-i Muhibbi dated Saban 973 (December 1565-January 1566) containing the Turkish poems of Suleyman the Magnificent (Istanbul University Library,T.5467). The frontispiece and spaces between the verses were illuminated by Kara Memi. This work, which constituted a virtual encyclopedia of decoration for the painting atelier during Suleyman’s reign, includes examples of all the decorative motifs and styles characteristic of Ottoman naturalistic decoration, as well as classical rumis, scrolling branches and tiger skin designs. Other works of the same period illuminated in the style of Kara Memi include various Korans (for example, a Koran with calligraphy by Ahmed Karahisari, Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Y.Y.999) and the Suleymanname, (Topkapi Palace Museum Library, H. 1517). An album, probably prepared in the third quarter of the 16th century, is of special importance for its illuminations the saz style and in the style characteristic of Kara Memi.

Although the classical style continued to dominate Ottoman illumination in the 17th century, the examples produced are much less refined. Manuscripts from this period are illuminated in the halkar technique, characterized by profuse gilding and ostentatious decorations. A richly illuminated work from the first half of the century is the Divan-i Osman (Topkapi Palace Museum Library, R.741) containing the poems of Sultan Osman ll, The frontispiece of this work (1b-2a), and the opening (2b) texts are illuminated, and the margins decorated with halkar in gilding and soft-hued colors.

Western influences gradually become evident in Ottoman art from the beginning of the 17th century. Traditional motifs are used together with new motifs and forms generated under the impact of European art. The most popular decorative motif of the period is the bouquet of flowers in Turkish style. But the tendency to add depth to the flowers by the use of shading reflects the western influence typical of the period. A calligraphy album decorated with such bunches of flowers constitutes a characteristic example of t his decorative style. (Topkapi Palace Museum Library, M.R. 1123).

In book illumination of the 18th century, as well as books reflecting the new taste, books reviving the classical motifs were also produced (for example, Topkapi Palace Museum Library E.H. 259). Another group of work demonstrates that the influence of western art is even stronger. Illuminations displaying baroque motifs alongside halkar style decorations adorn chapter headings and margins, and classical illuminations often exhibit a naturalistic bouquet of flowers in the center. Of special significance in this period are the works in which classical decorations of the illuminator and lacquer master Ali ÿsküdari are reconciled with the new western influence. This artist, who produced flower pictures, also produced lacquer decorations characterized b a novel interpretation of the saz style (for example, Istanbul University Library, T. 5650), for which he is known in Ottoman sources  of the period as the Sah Kulu of the time.

As the fascination with western art and the western life-style in the Ottoman Palace steadily increased towards the end of the 18th century, a style known s “Turkish Rococo” came to characterize the art of illumination as well as the decorative elements of other works of art. This style is distinguished by a ponderous taste in decoration dominated by large intertwined foliage, floral garlands and bows (for example, Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Y.Y.1152).

Turkish illumination of the Ottoman period came to an end towards the close of the 19th century with the neo-classical movement which revived the classical motifs.


Arrowpoint is a supplementary decorative technique which is used in the decoration of manuscripts and which takes place at the conclusion of the design being made.

The meaning of the term “arrowpoint” as it is used in illumination work is not to be found in the dictionary. Nevertheless, on page 1986 of Volume IV of Celal Esad Arvesen’s Sanat Ansiklopedisi, we find the following explanation: Sharp-pointed sections extending outward like arrows in the decorations employed in bookbinding and illumination work. These sections are generally done in paint or in gold. The name given to this style of decoration in Turkish, tig most likely came into the language from the Farsi word which means “sword.” Indeed the arrowpoint or tig motifs employed in illumination are sharp, thin, and long, just like swords.

Illumination, Painting, and Arrowpoint

The term illumination is given to all manner of decoration made with paint or gilding in manuscripts and collages. In addition to gold, root dyes, colored earth paints, metallic oxides, and the powders of various colored stones mixed with water and gum were all used.

In hand-written manuscripts, the external cover called zahriye, the epilogue known as hatime, the title (serlevha), the headings in the Quran (Sura headings, Chapter headings), the rosettes indicating the places in the text where prostration should be performed, the section “roses,” the beginnings and ends of the verses (stops), and in some works, all edges outside the text itself were illuminated.

The illuminator would prepare his mold, and fastening it vertically onto a hard surface, place the page to be illuminated on it. Charcoal dust was sprinkled over the page and the process of silkme or pouncing the mold would be completed. If the whole page was to be illuminated, only a quarter of the design would be pounced so as to prevent one’s hand from spoiling the painted sections; as the painting progressed one advanced to the other parts. First the contours would be drawn then the colors would be drawn then the colors would be filled in with gilt or earthen paints. Then the gilded sections would be burnished and polished. Needle points would be added so as best to enhance the motif.

Styles in illumination varied according to the age, city and locality in which they were employed. Nevertheless with the exception of a few rare examples, the transition between decoration and blank area was always effected by means of arrowpoint.

“Arrowpoint, generally accepted as a supplementary element in the Turkish decorative arts, in fact occupies an important place in illumination. Starting off from where the illumination begins, the decorations extend outward like arrows in parallel lines, and terminate in sharp points. It is clear that they were made for the purpose of achieving a balance between the decorated portions and the remainder.

In the decoration of manuscripts, the amount of area left blank had as great an influence on beauty as that which was written or illuminated. Arrowpoint however achieved a balance between these two portions, and eased the transition of the eye to the empty space. Nevertheless, it is very important that arrowpoint be carried out at pacific proportions depending on the place it is used and that it achieve harmony with the illumination. In works beautifully and exquisitely decorated with illumination, the balance and amount of the arrokwpoint and its variety despite its simplicity is a source of amazement.

Arrowpoint and Schools of Illumination

While there are hundreds of varieties of arrowpoint, and they vary over the centuries, in all cases the motif is a transition from broad to narrow, and they terminate in points. In most arrowpoint decorations, lines, points, and small convolutions are exploited. At times, sun-burst and geometric designs, cloud and flower motifs, and animalise forms are to be observed.

Mameluke Illumination

Mameluke Illumination was done in gold, blue and yellowish-grey. Arrowpoints were blue and drawn sparsely, and they are in the form of a rather long straight line with a single horizontal line, or else with a single convolution extending to either side.

Seljuk Illumination

Seljuk Illumination was done in gold, dark blue, white, and reddish brown. Transitions were by means of geometric motifs and Seljuk arches. In headings and full-page illuminations, there is either no arrowpoint at all or else it is in the form of small extensions and sparsely drawn lines. In the medallion on the other hand, at the point of juncture of the Seljuk arches one sees occasional blue arrowpoint consisting of plan lines and small circles.

Amasya Illumination

Here, delicate blue arrowpoint complements the zerenderzer (literally, “gold-on-gold”) decoration. In heading arrowpoint, devotailing motifs, are also to be encountered, while in medallion arrowpoint there are small projections and plain, stylized motifs passing from thick to thin, which are nevertheless of great beauty.

Fatih Illumination

A great number of books illuminated in the Palace workshops during the period of the Conquest are today in the Fatih Collection of the Süleymaniye Library, included among other works in the collection which belonged to members of the Palace. As will be seen in these works, the art of illumination during the period of the Conquest was quite advanced. The lovely style of decoration, which without becoming excessive, managed to complement the text and make it stand out is also reflected in the arrowpoint. It is during this period that we see the most beautiful examples of arrowpoint drawn in blue and gold, in dovetailed and geometric forms. Flower motifs consisting of tiny triangles between two small curves extending from a single point, two short horizontal lines parallel to one another, thickened points, and small filled-in triangles are so masterfully interwove that it is almost as if no two arrowpoints are the same.

Sehabeddin Ahmed Sivasi, Uyunü’t -tefasir , 886 A.H.-1481 A.D. Arrowpoint consisting of small lines and convolutions in an oval medallion.

When we examine a great number of hand-written manuscripts, we observe that the predominant color in arrowpoint is blue. Nevertheless, depending on the work and the illumination, gold, red, and green were also added to this primary color.

Classical illumination experienced its second bright period in the 16th Century. The wealth of motifs, colors, and composition, perfection of technique, the variety observed in design and the exquisite taste, and the profuse but color-harmonious use of gold are all the primary features of this period’s illumination.

Arrowpoint of course developed in parallel with this, and achieved its most mature and beautiful forms. The lines have been enriched, and with the addition of sun-burst designs, delicate motifs appeared. The proliferation of arrowpoint designs increased considerably, and to them were added space-filling motifs in the interstices. In the second half of the 16th Century, realistic flower motifs -through not very common- were included among the arrowpoint. During this century, arrowpoint was done in blue and gold, with an occasional addition of red as well.

The 17th Century

In the 17th Century, we see that gold was used even more lavishly in illumination. In the decoration of the arrowpoint we find realistic flower motifs, animallike figures, and needle point decorations on a field of glitter.

The 18th Century

In the 18th Century, illumination was done in two styles. On the one hand there were decorations made with large flowers, and huge, complex motifs, indications that illumination had begun to change, and room was left for arrowpoint in the large and colorful flowers. On the other however, the styles of the Baroque and Rococo entered illumination and among the ribbons, vases, multi-colored flowers and ornamentation approaching the excessive, there was no room left for arrowpoint.

Arrowpoint According to Location

Arrowpoint also shows particular features according to its location and form. Arrowpoint complementing the circular or oval medallion on the cover disperses itself into the void like bundles of light radiating from a center. In mihrab work or in book titles, it rises like parallel arrows. Sometimes a single arrowpoint is observed, sometimes we see them in rows.

Quran, Sun-burst motifs are apparent in the title instead of arrowpoint. Larger motifs were employed on the lower part, while thinner and smaller motifs were used on the top.

Just as arrowpoints in Sura and Prostration rosettes are drawn on pain grounds, there are those done by means of needle point of fields of glitter, and those with flowers.

The arrowpoint motifs in Sure and Prostration rosettes are done with their upper portions long while the lower parts are left short. When there are several such rosettes on the same page, they are most often joined together by means of arrowpoint.

Arrowpoint made up of the alternation of arrowpoints having thesame motif, or sometimes two distinct motifs, and sometimes with the interstices filled in with minor figures, increases and punctuates the beauty of the illumination.


Ottoman artists in general followed an artistic path shaped by Islamic thought and modes of behavior. They depicted them (as other living elements) not as they themselves saw them for the most part but rather in a stylized, decorative form that they inherited from earlier masters. Duirng the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, the illustrations and illuminations of Karamemi opened the way for a brand new naturalistic style


During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Ottoman scribes, working in different bureaucratic departments of the Ottoman state, became increasingly visible in the political, diplomatic and intellectual life of the empire as members of a distinct cultural community. The rise of the Ottoman scribal elites – the “people of pen” (kalem ehli) – and posed a significant challenge to the at least two-century-long ascendancy of the military corps in Ottoman politics and central administration. For the Ottoman Empire and earlier Islamic states, the term “scribal elites” denotes the men who produced the government’s correspondences, kept its financial accounts and compiled its records on land tenure. By the eighteenth century, the scribes had already formed one branch of a ‘ruling class’ that also included the military, the Islamic religious establishment, and the palace service.

Contrary to the accepted scholarly opinion which associates the rising dominance of the Ottoman scribal community in Ottoman bureaucracy solely with the Ottoman will to westernize in the face of an imminent decline, the late 17th-century history of the kalemiye should be analyzed in the larger context of the Islamic scribal traditions, by taking into consideration the Ottoman bureaucracy’s conversation with these long-standing Islamic scribal ideals and practices. Only through such retrospection, one can appreciate the processes which brought the Ottoman bureaucratic structure into maturation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rami Mehmed (1654-1708) – chief of the scribes and one-time grand vizier – and the scribal networks around him is a critical figure in this respect.

The late 17th and early 18th-century Ottoman chronicles, various European accounts, and the Ottoman biographical collections all point out to the fact that the appointment of a katib as grand-vizier and his eventual dismissal startled the Ottoman political establishment considerably. In order to understand the political dynamics, which so unexpectedly benefitted Rami Mehmed and his kinsmen in this period, this dissertation carries out an analysis of scribal networks, not in the strict sense as used in the applications of historical sociology, but as networks of people, practices and ideas woven in this very period. Different literary products all penned by Ottoman scribes during the course of the 17th and early 18th century– works of prose and poetry, biographical compendia of poets and calligraphers, manuals on epistolography, treatises on the art of writing and book-keeping– are the main sources used in order to reconstruct the intellectual landscape of the period in question. Likewise archival sources including appointment petitions, lists of current office holders, the correspondences between different bureaucratic departments, and other documents related to the distribution of duties and personnel are helpful in understanding the socio-economic background of the bureaucratic boom that fully materialized in the 18th century.