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Türk-İslam Sanatları

The Art of Marbling

Whatever its meaning and scope is, whatever it covers or discloses,there is life. It may be condensed,exalted, athropied or obscured. Or it may become meaningful, evident, full of life. For a moment (or in some people for a lifetime) LIFE may acquire in one of its aspects vigor, density and depth. It’s the ART which assings such a density and clarity to the life.

Art means intelligence which concieves what life is and which gives the life most attractive and beautiful forms. Life without art and intelligence is wild, insensible,it is a substance without forms, action without any aim.

We don’t know exactly on which date the art of marbling started. We know that it originated from the Central Asia (Turkestan), the center of the civilisation with 100 centuries of history and spread over the world. The world Marbling in Turkish EBRU derives from the word EBRE in one of the older Central Asia languages which means “moire, veined fabric, paper etc.” useed for covering holy books and others.

Through Silk Road this art came first to Iran. where it was called EBRU (cloud,cloudy) or ABRU(Waterface).Subsequently this art moved towards Anatolia and named after EBRU in Turkist language. About the end of XVI. century tradesmen, diplomats and travellers coming to Turkey brought this art to Europe and called it “TURKISH PAPER”. It was broadly used in Italy, Germany, France and England.

Since the art of mabling had a significant importance in Islamic art, I belive that it is essential to recall the basic principles of Islamic art in order to have a better and closer look at marbling and thereby reach a deeper understanding.


The foundation of Islamic art lies in Sufism, which can be defined as being together with God.

Sufism is a way that theaches one to lead a life filled with morality,decency, piety, faith and prayer embued with love and enthusiasm. To live with sufism ensures the attainment of God’s love which has the highest degree of moral value.

Sufism cures the virtual sinssuch as hate, pride, haughtiness, superficiality and jealousy.
Sufism helps man to recognize himself and his God through guiding him to fight with his two invisible enemies namely the devil and self(nefs). Recovery of the soul from the virtual sins, enrichment of personality and the realization of peace with oneself can be achieved through continously repeating God’s name(dhikr).

The Qu’ran teaches us that the soul can only be at peace by repeating God’s name.
There are myriad ways of doing this. One of these ways is to be occupied with the beauty created by God, namely working and participating in fine art.


Turks adopted Islam with great faith. As it was the case, they tried to express the DIVINE beauties in all branches of art. We see them looking after mystical beautis in architecture, music, ornamental art. At the time (XIV-XIX centuries) many theological scollos (dervish convent) become a kind of “Art Workshops” bringing up studuents by master to apprentice method. Even no signoture has been set at the foot of many works of art because of modesty coming from dervish precepts.

Turkish have also acknowledged the calligraphy, wich gained much importance with Holy Qu’ran, as one of the main art branches and creating several forms to the Arabic alphabet brought it to perfection. Meanwhile Marbled paper has been used to decorate the scripts either as a backround or the blank spaces left in the four corner of the page.This is a clear evidence that Turkish envisaged marbling primarily as a WORK OF ART. The cocept of color paper used in bookbinding was accesory. Within this scope, marbling were since old times framed and nailed to the wall like oilpaintings.

Since marbling was quite close to the contemporary concept of “Abstact Art” marbling artists were not compelled to behave differently. In brief the marbling art does not need to exerts efforts to make himself as contemporary art essentially.

The ABC of Marbling is the Classical Barbling. Unless learning it in dept it would not be correct to undertake other attempts.


Gum tragacath

Gum Tragacant is obtained from trunk of a thorny plant growing naturally in Anatolian, Persian and Turkestan mountians and called “gaven”. The sap coming out of scratches made on the branches dries up later and solidifies in bone white colored pieces. It is dropped in water with very low hardness at the rate of 20-40 grams/3 litres and kept for two days.The gum having dissolved completely is filtered through a cloth bag and poured into the basin. It should have a dentisty of buttermilk.Gum tragacanth is widely used as herbal medicene(in throat and stomach diseases) in cosmetic and textile industry.

Dye are “mineral dyes” as it is called in clasiccal method obtained from natural metal oxides. Turkish is a very rich country in respect of such natural dyes.Any kind of earth may be first translated into mud then filtered and crushed to from a dye.

Painthbrushes; are made of horsehair bound around a rosetree stick, in a manner to from a circumference with hollow centre.Rosetree is preferred because it prevents mould. Brushes of different thickness and length enable dye application and dye control.

Basin is made of wood or metal of 4-6 cm. depth an about some milimeter larger than the paper size (to offset the dilatation of paper when wet). Usual paper zizes are 35X50 cm. or 25X35 cm.

Water; preferably withouth hardness.The ideal is distilled water. In older times rainwater was favorite but because of acide rain in our times it is no longer advisable.

Paper: The ideal paper is the one handmade and having a high absorbtion capacity and acid-free. On account of its rarity and high cost we don’t advise it to begginers. Instead, any kind of non glossy paper may be used. In order to increase
the absorbtion capaticy and to fix the dye on it(more durable) and alumina solution may be applied on the paper surface. Thus dyes are made more easy to fix.

Gall: The most importent metarial to make marbling. A marbler must well understand what gall is and its functions. To my openion the secret of the marbling lies in the gall. Its main functions are :

1. to ensure surface tension, dye spreading over the water surface otherwice dyes sink.
2. to prevent mixture of dyes. For instance when blue yellow are simultaneously applied and mixed up as much as possible never green comes out.
3. to assist dye fixation on the paper.
4. to give different shades of the same color and different size of patterns.

Marbling is similar to cooking; it is impossible to give the exact recipe. Everyone has his own mixture of colors and patterns and wishes to reflect to own world.

Marbling results by the simultaneous operation of many accurate balances. Purity and application rules must be streaktly observed. The density of the gummed water and the relationships between the water and the dye, the dye and the tensioning agent (gall), the quantity of gall in the dye are all very important. It may take some time to establish such a delicate balance. But was everything is ready marbling is easily and quickly performed. Yet this property of the marbling makes it very suitable for a “theraphy”.

Dyes are spopotted on the surface of the water by means of paintbrushes and according to quantities and colors desired. Dyes should not be too concentrated. Concentric, superposed drops thus applied form a pattern called “Battal”. This pattern is the origin of almost all others. Now if this basic pattern is handled by parellel lines made by a thin pencil or chip moved back and forth you obtain “the back-and-forth”. If this design is crossed out by means of a comb a “combed-pattern” is obtained. In case the “back-and-forth” is diagonally crossed again, it becomes “shawl” sample. Combed marbling may be made into back-and-forth or shawl design. When a convolute line is applied from the outer circumference towards the centre you obtain a “nightingale nest”. In the event small colorfull dots are spotted on the back-and-forth or shawl design you get the “sprinkled marbling”. If, instead, you apply larger dots (which means with higher rate of gall contents) you obtain the “prophyry marble” which resemble most to marble.

Nonetheless above patterns may be divesified by selecting one of the above as a basis and making concentric drops of different colors. Mehmet Efendi (the orator of Saint Sophia, deceased in 1973) first formed flower and other patterns, wich were subsequenly called the “Orator pattern” (Hatip ebrusu). Later on these patterns developed into flower shaped marblings.

The sheet of paper is lard from one side onto any of above designs prepared on the gummed water in the basin. Now this processing makes the dye fixed on the paper. The paper is then careflly lifted off the basin without stripping too much the gum off the surface. In classic Turkish marbling the paper taken out of the basin is not washed off. The thin layer of gum remaining on the surface forms a protective (fixing) coat. The paper is laid on a flat surface and let to dry up.

Presuming every material is made ready, the translation of the patterns made on the surface water is accomplisheed within 3-5 minutes or at most, 15 minutes. This infinity of colors and shapes quickly formed makes the marbling amazing at and fascinates the spectator (if any). It makes eveything forgotten. One evening the late calligraphy and marbling master, Necmetting Okyay started to make marbling.Some time later he heard a sound coming from the street and supposed that it was the voice of a street seller making business late in the night: to his surprise this was the müezzin performing the morning player call.

Mimar Sinan University

Gönderen 15 Şubat 2008

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