3 Şubat 2016 Çarşamba

The Human Figures in Turkish Art from Central Asia to Anatolian Seljuk Turks

Steel mirror, 13th c., Seljuk Turks.
from the southeast Anatolia
Topkapi Palace Museum

The steel mirror, made in the thirteenth century, is 45.50 cm long including the handle and 21.00 cm. in diameter Although where the steel mirror was made is not certainly known, it can be inferred that the mirror was made in Konya by a craftsman coming from South Eastern Anatolia because its samples were also seen in the South Eastern region and the theme of the figure on it is similar to the plaster and tile plates in Konya. 

In the figure on the mirror, a symbolic hunting scene with a mounted figure holding a bird of prey. In the Anatolian Seljuq art, mounted figures in hunting scenes were not limited to metalwork, but they were also used on stone, plaster and tile. At that time, it was a tradition among the Turks to tame birds of prey and go hunting with these birds. Therefore, in the Seljuq depictions of mounted figures, the tradition of mounted emperor iconography was continued. 

The figures of the mounted hunter, his hound and fox, flying wigeon and dragon were masterfully placed on the circular area. The Seljuq Sultans, like the Oghuz Turks that are their ancestors, were really interested in hunting and birds of prey. Therefore, David Strom Rice thinks that the mounted hunter figure at the back side of the steel mirror is a part of the Oghuz Turks‟ culture. It is obvious that these Turkish traditions were also adopted by the Anatolian Seljuqs. 

The tied tail of the horse figure depicted also existed in Central Asian culture; so it is natural that this tradition continued to exist in the Seljuqs culture, too. The facts that the figure is holding a bird of prey in his left hand and riding a horse whose tail is tied indicate that this figure is a Turk. 

In addition, in the frescoes of Lashkari Bazar Palace, figures of bird tamer called Bazdar were depicted in Turkish style. The pioneering types of these hunter figures with birds of prey were seen in the Qarakhanids bronze mirrors. Two bronze mirrors remained from the Qarakhanids were decorated with embossed figures of mounted hunters and this proves that was an old and common style of depiction in Turkish art. Yet, in the hunting scenes of Anatolian Seljuqs‟ artwork, the influence of Central Asia is clearly seen. 

In those hunting scene depictions, the clothes of the human figures usually have military characteristics. As well as Lashkari Bazar Palace frescoes and the Qarakhanids bronze mirrors, hunter figures and bird of prey depictions were also seen in the tiles made in Minai technique applied in Konya Kilij Arslan Pavilion. In Turkish paintings, the human figures have circular face, almond shaped slant eyes, bow shaped eyebrows, sharp, upturned nose and small mouth. 

The mounted figure on the Steel Mirror is a typical of Turkish figures with his circular face, slanted eyes, upturned nose and long hair. He has long straight or braided hair reaching his waist. This hairstyle dates back to the Gokturk statues. The tradition of long braided or straight hair was continued by the Seljuqs in Anatolia. 

The figures were also depicted wearing a kind of headwear made of white felt. Headdresses existed in various sizes and shapes. For centuries, the types of hats remained from Central Asia to Middle Asia without changing. The embossed figures of Bilge Khan and Kultigin Khan, wearing headwears with eagle arming, were also seen on the coins made in Turkestan. Headdresses were also seen on the other depictions of emperors and khatuns. Moreover, the figure on the steel mirror was depicted wearing caftan, which is a kind of Turkish dressing. 

In the Gokturk statues and Uygur artwork, there are figures depicted in knee length or ankle length caftans with belts around the waist. The mounted figure on the steel mirror is wearing a pointed hat and v necked caftan. The figure is also wearing pointed and long boots. It is known that Turks used to use boots a lot. Especially, the Gokturks wore boots made of felt or leather and those boots were used in the Islamic world later. Looking at these figures, it can be stated that the dressing styles of Gokturk statues served as a guide for Anatolian Seljuqs. 

In addition, there is a corona around the figure‟s head. Coronas around the heads of human figures were also seen in the Uygur depictions. There are a couple of dragons between the horse‟s front legs and next to the medal. It can be deduced that these dragons are there to bring good luck for the hunt. Finally, on the borders around the figure, there are depictions of planets, stars and enchanted creatures together.

In short, the clothes and the face of the mounted figure and the equipment of the horse are in Anatolian Seljuqs style. Today, this steel mirror is in Topkapi Palace Museum with the 1792 inventory number.

Dr.Tolga ERKAN
The Human Figures in Turkish Art from Central Asia to Anatolian Seljuqs / pdf
TOBB Ekonomi ve Teknoloji Universitesi, Güzel Sanatlar

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