The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Seljuk Woodworking


Back to arts page

 

The Seljuks were master woodcarvers. The designs carved in wood were similar to those used by stonemasons.  Although wood is a delicate material that is easily affected by fires, damage and wear, many fine Seljuk examples have miraculously been preserved over the centuries. A few are still in situ or in museums, although many have been pilfered, destroyed, or smuggled out of the country over the years.

 

Although there was an important series of wooden-pillared mosques built in the late Seljuk era in Central Anatolia, the use of wood was mainly reserved for decorative elements: doors, column capitals, beams, window shutters, door wings, mimbars (mosque pulpits), cupboards, lecterns, Qur'an stands, thrones and paneling. There was probably little wooden decoration or furnishings in hans, other than wooden screens, and no remaining examples exist. Some of the pieces were signed by the master carver.

 

Woodworking designs include vegetal (palmettes and rumi patterns), geometric designs (star compositions) and calligraphy. Figures are rarely seen. Hard walnut wood was the favored wood to use.

 

The techniques used in Seljuk woodwork were carving, open latticework, engraving (incising the surface with a pointed tool), inlaying, openwork appliqué (placing of a carved piece of wood onto another wooded plaque) and surface painting (kalemişi) and kündekâri (fill and relief).

 

Carving: The Seljuks used low-relief carving for shutters, sarcophagi, and doors, and high-relief carving for calligraphic friezes and decorative borders. The usual depth of carving varies from 1mm to 2cm.  It was most often used on door wings, shutters, and Qur'an stands. Carving could be flat, round, grooved or beveled (as in the Samarra-style carvings of 9th century Abbassid art).

 

Inlaying: this technique appeared late (end 13th c) in Seljuk art, and a fine example can be seen in the minbar of the Eşrefoğlu Mosque of Beyşehir.

 

Kündekâri: The Seljuks developed the technique known as “kündekâri”, a complex technique which used pre-shaped, dried and seasoned pieces of cut and carved wood. Pieces of wood were first cut into shapes, such as polygons, diamonds or stars. Afterwards, the surface area was carved as well. The pieces were then interlocked by mortise, without glue or nails, and mounted on a frame and backing. The favored patterns were the star and polygon (usually filled with vine scrolls or flowers), kufic inscriptions and other complicated and intricate geometric shapes.  This technique is principally seen on large objects such as door wings and the sides of mimbars.

 

Painting on wood

As mentioned above, woodwork was sometimes painted in the Seljuk period. No examples remain, although the famous ceilings of the Capella Palatino in Palermo, Sicily, painted in the Fatimid style by the Normans in 1154, can provide some hint onto what the painted decoration of the Seljuk palaces may have looked like. Traces of painting have been found in the ruins of the Alara Saray built by Alaeddin Keykubad in 1224.

 

 

Notable examples of Seljuk woodwork may be seen in Turkish museums and in situ at the Kebir Mosque in Aksaray and the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya, among others.


 

 

Wooden Qur’an Stand

 

Mevlevi Dervish Lodge, Konya, inv. 332, 1279/80

 

This important work has highly-decorated inner surfaces, which is not often seen, as the surfaces where the book would sit are generally left undecorated. The inner surfaces are decorated by the technique known as kalemişi, which is a combination of both painting and stenciling, covered by a lacquer coating. The scenes depict seven lions, each in a different posture, placed around a central eagle figure. The stand contains an inscription which provides the patron’s name, Jamal al-Din, and the date of 1279/80.

 

Wooden Qur’an Stand

 

Istanbul, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, inv. 247, From the tomb of Kiliç Arslan II, Konya, Mid 13th c.

 

The upper parts have inscriptions, one of which gives the name of Sultan Kaykavus, son of Keyhusrev, along with his titles and epithets, but no date; it is assumed that it is Sultan Kaykavus II (r. 1246-47).

 

 

 

The mimbar of the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya, dated 1155, is the oldest piece of dated Seljuk art known and is also the oldest known piece in the kündekâri technique.

 

Wooden Minbar

Ankara Museum of Ethnography, inv. 12783, from the Great Mosque of Battalgazi in Malatya, 12th c.

This minbar includes an inscription giving then name of the patron and several verses from the Qur’an.

Another extraordinary kundekari (bevelled carving) wooden minbar from the Great Mosque of Siirt, dated 1214-12, can also be seen in this museum (inv. 9003).

Wooden Door Wings

Amasya Museum, inv. F. 67.25.1, from the Gök Medrese in Amasya, 1266-67

 

This door from a late Seljuk building is unusual in several ways. The inscriptions include both Persian (religious subjects) and Arabic texts (various Hadith). It also contains two inscriptions, one in the middle and the other at the springing of the arch on the right wing, both containing the name of the artist, “Abu Muslum, the Carpenter”.

 

Wooden Door Wing

Ankara, Museum of Ethnography, inv. 11968, from the Haji Masjid (Ogle Mosque), Ankara, early 13th c.

 

The composition leaves no blank space, and includes a central large medallion filled and surrounded by geometric and floral motifs. The second panel includes an inscription in Arabic furnishing the name of the patron, Haji Hasan, and a prayer: “May Allah have mercy upon him and his parents and all Muslims.” On each side above the central medallion can be seen 2 lions in profile, advancing to the middle towards each other.

Wooden Door Wings

Ankara, Museum of Pious Foundations, inv. 2232, from the tomb of the Hospital of Divriği, dated 1228/29

 

The door has large medallions against a flat, uncarved ground.

Wooden Door Wings

Ankara, Museum of Ethnography, inv. 8015, from the Kuyulu (Hoja Pasa) Mosque in Ankara, 1st half 13th c.

 

Wooden Door Wing

Istanbul, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, inv. 248; from Karaman,  beg. 13th c.

An important example of Seljuk woodwork art. The intact upper tenon is original.

Window Shutters or Door

 

Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, inv. WW56.2003.1,2; late 13th c.

This pair of wood panels with carved metal appliqués once furnished the Beyhekim Mosque in Konya, a building named after a famous Seljuk doctor who is said to have treated many important figures, including Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273). The pair is decorated with an interlacing star pattern radiating from the center. The calligraphy at the top and bottom state; "The wise one is he who has learned a lesson from experience, and the ignorant one is he who does not think of the consequences"; an apt proverb that speaks to the personality of the erudite Dr. Beyhekim.

 


 


 

©2001-2020, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.