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Honorary Turkish Consulate for Michigan
About Turkey: Art and Culture: Decorative Arts
16th century Ototman miniature detail

Laminated Paper in Calligraphy

Persian calligraphic miniature by Mir Ali

Persian calligraphic miniature
by Mir Ali

The dictionary definition of the Turkish word murakka “patchwork” or “collage” is a thin, stiff, unbendable cardboard obtained by layering a number of sheets of paper with their grains perpendicular to one another, using a technique similar to that of plywood today. The finished paper on which calligraphers produced their work was then affixed on top of this, after which the work was framed and decorated. The term murakka was also employed for albums which consisted of joining together a few small samples of calligraphy know as kit'a (section).

Today, the heavy paper known as cardboard was unavailable from paper sellers, and as a result it was prepared with great effort by book binders who were engaged in book crafts. Using a special technique, this cardboard manufactured by layering sheets of paper one on top of another was as flexible and as tense as a bow.

Manufacture of cardboard in this way was referred to as “tensing cardboard”.

Tensing Cardboard

Collage done in the talik style. (Sueleymaniye Library)

Collage
done in the talik style.
Süleymaniye Library

In tensing cardboard, the type of paper is of great importance. Paper which becomes deformed when it gets wet is never employed. The paper used for this purpose must be strong. The fact that the fibbers of paper show a tendency to become lax and lengthen predominantly in one direction is a natural result of its manufacture. This tendency to become lax or lengthen in one direction is referred to as the paper's grain. Paper which becomes lax and lengthens returns to its former length when it dries. It is just on this aspect of paper that cardboard is tensed.

The paper which is to be converted into cardboard is prepared by being cut into different sizes of length and width, one according to the other. The piece of paper among these with the smallest dimensions represents the useful area. As the number of layers in the cardboard increases, so does its strength and thickness. Once bookbinders have learned how many layers of paper are required, they prepare it according to order.

Both sides of each paper cut in different measurements is dampened with a wet sponge. Then without immediately drying it is rolled up to encourage it to become lax and made to wait for fifteen minutes. This waiting period is known as “tempering the paper”.

Collage done in the sekerzade style. (Sueleymaniye Library)

Collage
done in the sekerzade style.
Süleymaniye Library

This sheets of paper are affixed one on top of another in order from the smallest to the largest on a smooth, flat board which lacks any knots. In the past, the wood of the linden tree was preferred for this board. The dimensions of the board must be greater than those of the largest sheet of paper used.

In layering the paper, a number of matters need attention, Unless precautions are taken according to the paper pulp, the composition of the ink, whether the calligraphy is new or old, and whether or not there have been corrections, and one simply affixes the paper at random, one will be destroying the work.

A flour or cornstarch mixture is preferred in the layering of the paper since the possibility of separation exists when the paper is dampened. Cornstarch is mixed with water and cooked until it achieves the texture of a pudding, and then should be left to “rest” for a few days. To prevent damage by worms and similar vermin, a bit of alum was also added to the cornstarch. After the mixture is cooled, it is strained to eliminate any lumps, and is thus ready for use. The smallest piece of paper which is still damp is spread out and placed on the center of the board. A very thin layer of the paste mixture is spread over the upper surface and worked thoroughly into the paper. Adhesive is spread over one side of the next larger sheet of paper at another place, and taking care that no air intervenes, the larger sheet is very slowly placed over the one below. In this layering process, care is shown in placing the second sheet so that it overlaps the first by an equal amount in every direction. In this way, the second sheet is attached both to the first and to the board by means of the excess around it edge. Another sheet is placed over the second and then rubbed by hand to remove any excess intervening paste or air bubbles. If the same process is desired for several layers, these are affixed in the same way. Following this, the cardboard is left to dry in the shade to allow the moisture to evap orate. It is essential here that the paste be equally distributed everywhere. If this is not ensured, the more rapidly drying areas will warp, while there will be cracks in the paper where it does not dry. In tensing cardboard, the order of pasting the paper may also take place from largest to smallest, in an order reverse of that described above. In that case however only the bottommost sheet should be affixed to the board by its overlapping edges.

Collage done by Sheik Hamdullah in A.H. 901 in the nesihstyle. (Sueleymaniye Library)

Collage done by Sheik Hamdullah
in 901 A.H. in the nesih style
Süleymaniye Library

After the cardboard has thoroughly dried, a thin layer of the same paste is then applied to the reverse of the paper containing the calligraphy, and this is affixed by centring it on the tensed cardboard. After this has all dried, ornamentation takes place by one skilled in that art, or the work is affixed to marbled paper. If any air remains trapped during the tensing, this must be removed before drying by piercing the locations with a needle, other wise that spot will remain unglued. All this care notwithstanding, a wavy surface is observed in some types of cardboard on account of incompatibility in the paper. This is known as “lumpy cardboard.”

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Album Collages

All the sections which are to become part of the collage are tensed as usual and layered, then illumination is carried out. All the sections are cut to the same dimensions and placed side by side. They are surrounded on three sides by a thin strip of leather or cloth and affixed to one another. This also prevents the edges of the sections from being damaged.

This double section is attached at the bottom to another double section which is also bound with a leather or cloth strip. After all the sections have been connected the collage is bound in the classical way. Collages made in this way are known as “Flat Collages”, “Book Collages”, or simply “Collages”.

If two adjacent sections are attached to one another only at the bottom, then it ill be possible to open all the sections at once and see them and then to fold them again in a zigzag. Collages of this type are known as “Accordion Collages”.

Karahisari Qur'an Page

Karahisari Qur’an manuscript page

The reason that collage were preferred starting from the 15th Century onward must be that they lasted for a long time and they made it possible for various bits of writing to be collated. Collages were also made as albums of miniatures and illumination, but we see that it was most often carried out for the art of calligraphy. Collages also made it possible for calligraphy models, eulogies, prayers, holy verses, and hadith to be placed in an orderly pagination arrangement. The signatures of the calligraphers are generally to be found at the end.

We find sülüs, nesih, muhakkak, tevki, talik, and reyhani styles in collages. Below lines written in the sülüs, muhakkak, and nesih, reyhani, and rikaa styles using a finer nib. It is possible that a holy verse, hadith, or word begun in one section might terminate in the middle. In that case, these would be continued in the next section.

In addition to this, there are also collages which consist of composites of sections which have nothing to do with one another and which are done by different calligraphers. These are known as “Compilation Collages”.

The collages adorning our museums and libraries with both their calligraphy and their decorations await the research and attention of their enthusiasts.

Source: Antika, The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, May 1986 Issue: 14, by Z. Cihan Özsayiner

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