‘My Name Is Red’ is a fictional art-history novel that doubles up as a murder-mystery set in the 1450s, written by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. The story starts off with a corpse narrating his death.
What follows next is multiple narrators, each somehow connected to the man we first meet as a corpse, a talented miniaturist called Elegant Effendi. Pretty early on, the reader is informed that Elegant was murdered because he doubted the nature of the work he and his fellow artists were commissioned to do. Effendi believed that his master was committing a grave crime by deviating from their traditional Ottoman miniaturist art by aping Venetian painting style. And that’s the strongest themes of the book - Ottoman Miniature Paintings versus the emerging Venetian style of painting that was soon taking over the West. So let’s look at this clash of two art schools – the Persian inspired Ottoman miniaturist form and the European Venetian form of painting.
Based on the story narrated by Pamuk, the Ottoman Miniature artists drew their paintings from “God’s point-of-view”. Which is why if you look at miniature paintings, they are slightly abstract and not very realistic. Also, Ottoman Miniaturists didn’t believe in individual styles – that is, if ten master artists from the Ottoman school of art were asked to paint a certain scene, an ordinary onlooker would never be able to differentiate between the painters. The artists were also forbidden from leaving any sort of signatures in their work.
Basically, there’s a lot of religious belief mixed in their art, the Ottomans believed that only Allah could create things, so if an artist tried to make something completely original, it would be considered blasphemous, because it meant the painter was trying to play God with his paintings. Which is why these paintings were also considered inferior to text and were earlier made only to accompany textual books.
Orhan Pamuk also talks about how the Ottoman artists were influenced by the Chinese, so a lot of the women in their paintings would look Chinese, with small eyes and pale skin.
Take a look at this Ottoman style painting below, real trees do not look like that, neither do the people nor buildings.
The Venetian School of Painting (which originated in Italy) however was a lot more realistic and focused on individual styles and portraiture. So while Ottoman miniatures would have multiple subjects, Venetian paintings a lot of time would focus on just individual subject and could be life-sized. Their style would be considered blasphemous by Ottoman painters, because according to them Venetian paintings made humans God-like.
Below is an example of a Venetian painting (Source: Wikipedia)
All of what I’ve written is based on my reading of “My Name Is Red”, so these differences between the Ottoman art vs the venetian art dates back to the late 1500s and not the later changes that took place in the respective art forms.
(P.S: I originally wrote a version of this write-up as an answer for a quora question)
Subscribe to our podcast on YouTube by the same name – Abstract AF
Listen to Episode 48 for some great graphic novel suggestions