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Istanbul in Miniature 07 July, 2020   

The art of miniature is still being practiced by a modern artist, Nusret Colpan, who combines its traditional role as an informative illustration with contemporary concepts of art. His subject is Istanbul, that city which has been a source of inspiration for poetry, songs, and paintings over the centuries. Nusret Colpan is an Istanbul enthusiast who declares, 'Istanbul is such a treasure store that everyone can find anything they seek in its diversity and beauty.' The various periods of the city's history, the winding Bosphorus strait, green woods, ships, mansions, pavilions, palaces, mosques, in short, all the images and visions of Istanbul past and present are to be seen in Colpan's miniatures.


Colpan takes as his starting point the feature which distinguishes traditional Ottoman Turkish miniatures from those of other countries, which is its realism and portrayal of actual scenes, so rendering these paintings documents of considerable historical significance. 'I have painted around three hundred modern miniatures so far,' he explains.


'They depict different parts of Istanbul, such as Topkapi Palace, Suleymaniye Mosque, Eminonu, Galata, the Bosphorus, the Maiden's Tower, the Golden Horn, and Uskudar, sometimes as they were in past centuries and sometimes as they are today when they seem to prove that they are still beautiful.'


These miniatures carry you on a journey through time. Bobbing on waves of vivid blue and turquoise might be galleons or ferryboats. Sometimes time is suspended. You find yourself in Hagia Sophia at night. Minarets and dome stretch upwards in that cold, dark blue winter night and the snowflakes falling on them look like stars floating down from the sky. The exuberant Bosphorus, with its timeless beauty, links you to the life of past and present.


The influence of the great 17th-century miniaturist Matrakci Nasuh and his training as an architect combine to make Colpan focus mainly on the city and its buildings.


The rich idiom of miniature, its conceptual symbolism, the way it allows the artist to conjoin both bird's eye and frontal views, to remove the roof of a building to reveal the interior, and to gather together in one composition events and objects historically disparate are the reasons why he has chosen this genre. Colpan explains that as an illustrative art of the book, Ottoman miniature sought to capture the maximum amount of detail without regard for perspective.


Today, however, he says, 'miniature is no longer confined to books, but has been transformed into an art in its own right, whose visual dimension, graphic quality, and color harmony and palette are striking.' Taking advantage of the artistic license permitted by miniature, an Istanbul deliberately stripped of all its undesirable aspects and revealed in its immaculate beauty. We realize once more just how passionately fond we are of this mysterious and spectacular city.


In a miniature showing fisher's nets at Anadolu Hisari, sea meeting shore in conjunction with vivid blues and greens, there are neither traffic jams nor ugly modern buildings. Nusret Colpan only draws what he wants to see. He focuses on the lyrical side of Istanbul, using abstraction and sometimes surrealist elements.


Colpan employs traditional techniques for his modern miniatures of Istanbul, which emphasize the city's relationship with water. He cannot imagine Istanbul without the sea, and the views of the water in his paintings are soothing to the human spirit. The miniature genre is particularly appropriate for representing the plays of color on the sea, whose constant movement is enchanting. Rolling, foaming waves sometimes fill most of the painting and sometimes caress a galleon, a royal barge, or a weary merchant ship. The main background is fundamental, says Colpan, pointing to the sea.


Nusret Colpan has worked in Istanbul for twenty years. Most of his paintings are in foreign collections. He hopes that new generations will appreciate the miniatures whose colors and sensibility are adapted to the perception of today's viewers, and open new doors for an art form which has so much potential.


Listed among the top tourism destinations in the world, Turkey offers numerous handicrafts and you should definitely experience some of those with the naked eye!

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