April 15: happy birthday, Mimar Sinan
2012/04/15 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1489 Mimar Sinan was born.
Sinan (d. 1588) is oftentimes compared with his contemporaries in the west, Michelangelo and Palladio. And that’s very nice, but it’s also sort of too bad that such a comparison has to be made to remind or inform folks in the west that there was plenty of greatness to be had in other parts of the world; indeed the Muslim courts had sort of kept the lamp of learning illuminated all through those so-called (and in some cases, appropriately so) “Dark Ages.” Sinan emerged from centuries of Muslim artistic development and is usually described as the greatest architect of one of the most vast empires of the world (the Ottoman Empire, at its height, would be about the same size as the Macedonian, and also compares favorably well in terms of land mass [but with far fewer people] with the Roman EMpire.)
After distinguishing himself as a military engineer with great skill building fortifications and bridges, Sinan was appointed as head architect for the Ottoman Empire under Süleyman (r. 1520-66) in 1537, just as the Ottoman Empire had achieved significant status as a world power, even though they had held Constantinople/Istanbul since 1453. His position, similar to that of Surveyor of the King’s Works held by Christopher Wren a century later, placed him in control of all official building projects. He inherited a tradition going back to the reign of Mehmed, under whom artists and architects had synthesized a wide variety of source material into a distinct Ottoman style. Under Süleyman that style reached its zenith, just as the Empire itself reached widely across the territory now defined by Hungary to the Middle East and North Africa; his emblems flew over military vessels that controlled the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf.
Sinan’s position was more than court architect; he was the Imperial architect, planting the symbols of Ottoman power throughout the realm, wherever Süleyman might build: the designs for over 100 mosques, 64 madrassas and schools, 22 mausolea, 7 aqueducts, 46 hostels, 35 palaces and villas, 42 baths, and a bunch of tombs, chapels, and fountains all radiated from his office, where he oversaw an administrative structure numbering in the hundreds of architects, engineers, artists, builders and tradespeople of all sorts from the top of the pyramid. Even as his style was spread through the Empire, and copied down through the generations, his main monuments stand in and near the capital where they both honor and challenge the precedence of Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century Cathedral built by Justinian as the central church of his Christian Empire. It had been turned to use as a mosque after the Ottoman invasion, and then became precedent for later builders–Sinan, most prominently among them, who was mesmerized by the appearance of a floating dome over its worship space.
Of all Sinan’s works, he held the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne as his greatest work. It stands in the midst of a diverse collection of charitable buildings, including schools and a hospital. This contextual approach, and the basic design of the mosque that grows from the model of Hagia Sophia, are consistent in Sinan’s work. Here, the giant 102′-diameter central dome rises 140′ over a centralized plan; it is supported by arches and squinches that provide an octagonal structural support over eight piers that are sculpted to diminish their overall heft. While the exterior of the building is plain ashlar, the interior is frosted with colorful Iznik tile that reflects the copious amounts of light that enter in dozens of windows. THe overall effect is a light structure awash in light, billowing space in which the worship gatherings take place.
Clio’s agents report that locals downplay Sinan’s achievements as being not as extraordinary as his mosques’ model, Hagia Sophia. Clio thinks it is a privileged aesthetic position indeed that fosters such attitudes, and further believes, that the aged beauty of an elegant lady does not diminish the loveliness of her daughters.
Great collection of photos here (don’t miss the minbar)
Image: Selimiye Mosque, 1569-1575 (from this source)