Baghdad: City of Peace, Truly

Baghdad: City of Peace, Truly by Ellen Frank

NPR recently ran a radio story about artist Ellen Frank. Frank runs a modern-day workshop out of her home in New York, focusing on the traditional art of illumination. She accepts several young artists at a time, and they work under her guidance and participate in all aspects of the creation of commissioned work. Frank says about the apprenticeship, “I think we bring back an intimacy of mentorship and training, where the apprentice or intern learns directly from the experienced artists.”

Illumination was also a critical part of the calligraphy process in the Arab, Ottoman and Turkish traditions. This traditional art was passed down from master to apprentice, much as in Ellen Frank’s workshop. Geometric, floral and other non-figural decorations were used to surround a composition, giving it elegance and beauty. Full-page illuminations could often be found at the beginning of a Koran, or serving as a divider between sections. Divisions within the text were often marked by decorations in the margin. Details were painted in gold leaf and other brilliant colors such as blue, sepia, brown, white, green and red.

Modern-day Turkey has kept the traditional art of illumination alive. One the finest illuminators is the Turkish artist Fatima Özçay. (See her work below).

Makanna in Jeli Thuluth

Makanna in Jali Thuluth; Calligrapher: Osman Özçay, Illuminator Fatima Özçay