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The Hagia Sophia was quite breathtaking, and the Blue Mosque was an incredible structure. I loved that these two destinations were so close to each other, and the Topkapi Palace Museum. Even the Grand Bazaar wasn't too far, and just 2 tram
stops away. Of all of these beautiful places, my breath was bated and my camera was clicking like crazy in the Harem at the Topkapi. The Sultan's crown jewels didn't even shine as brightly to me as the miles of decorative painting in the private quarters of the Sultan and his women. Of course, right? I'm a artist, a painter, a designer. I'd give up my most treasured brush (provided I could buy a new one!) to design and decorate with the complex layers, patterns, colors, and gilding that I saw in the Harem. That's what I do: I travel, I'm inspired by historical painting, textures, and patinas, and I fill my head with painted furniture and rooms to do when I return home.
What is a Harem anyway? The Harem is the place, and the name for the women, in a Muslim polygamist household. "Harama" is Arabic for "prohibited" or "prohibited place". So it's easy to see how that translates to the space. The Harem place is the women's quarters or the sanctuary for the wives and concubines. It's prohibited for any other man to enter. Can you imagine wives and concubines living in the same space? No wonder they needed such elaborate paintings on the walls--to distract them from the drama that must surely exist!
The Topkapi Palace was home to the ruling Sultans of the Ottaman Empire from 1465 to the mid 1800's. It functioned a lot like the White House in the US and the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, China. Residence to the leaders, as well as work space, and reception areas. In the mid 1800's the first European style palace was built, the Dolmabahçe Palace, and court and most official functions moved there, then the royal palace was declared a state museum in the 20's.
I was fascinated with the amount of painting and the different styles. I imagine being one of the chosen artists, wobbling atop a bamboo scaffold, painting with a brush I made of horse hair, squirrel hair....whatever.... probably painting alongside a team of a hundred other artisans, secretly proud that I got picked to paint the Sultan's harem. Istanbul spans the two continents of Asia and Europe and the influence of the contrasting cultures is evident. (In contemporary decorating I personally love seeing a blend and mix of cultural influences far more than a singular, often overwhelming or stagnant, style) .
The Apartments of the Queen Mother (not like Britain's Queen Mum, but the main wife of the Sultan) was adorned with European style (mid 18th century) panorama paintings set above blue and green motif tiles from the Anatolia region, and all of this was crowned with highly embellished and patterned traditional Muslim geometric painted designs on the ceiling. ((sigh))
My favorite section of painted decoration was a highly decorated buttress of a domed ceiling in the Imperial Hall. The stunning combination of the steely blue gray background, the bright gold leafing (did they make a gold leaf paint?) on the scroll and design work, and a burgundy accent near the center of the field, made me swoon. I must remember this combination for some future furniture work! One thing I noticed, was that many designs were asymmetrical to the room, as was the furniture placement. The little furniture that was there, the Throne, (is mainly what I am referring to), was placed in the room off to the side, not in a grand central location that we would imagine or have seen in the Imperial Palace in China, or the British palaces.
I had to snicker just a little when I spied a break in the perfect patterns. The area was a hall or transitional area outside the Imperial Hall, and granted, the artist(s) did not have an easy surface to address. You can see in my picture the repeating pattern shifts up just slightly at the left, and there is a break in the vertical alignment on the right. The design on that part also gets a little heavy handed and the design loses it's detail. Tired artist? Inexperienced apprentice? Part of the Harem was destroyed in 1666 by fire, many rooms were re-worked, so is this part historical painting, modern renovation, or original work? What do you think?
My other favorite color palette at the Harem was a soft light gray with gold leaf detail. The color combination was so gentle and airy. The door way shows the color up close. I am in love with that sweeping gold line in the central panel and it's asymmetrical placement of the text. The other picture shows a similar color scheme on the eave of the roof.
I'm not quite ready to leave, but there is so much to see in Istanbul. Maybe I will spend a lazy day when I get home and watch the 1964 comedy caper movie Topkaki, with Marlena Mercouri and Peter Ustinov, about the theft of a the bejeweled Sultan's Dagger from the Topkapi Museum, just to bring me back in my dreams.
Who am I?