Şeyh Hamdullah on the 500th Anniversary of His Death

By Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Sakıp Sabancı Museum commemorates Şeyh Hamdullah (d. 1520), the founder of Ottoman calligraphy, the great calligrapher of the time of Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81) and Bayezid II (h. 1481-1512), with an exhibition on the 500th anniversary of his death.

Amasya, Turkey (1895) by Sabancı University, Information CenterSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah

The calligrapher Şeyh Hamdullah was born in Amasya. His father was Mustafa Dede, sheikh of the Sühreverdiyye mystic order and a member of the Sarıkadızâde family. He migrated from Bukhara to Amasya. Müstakimzâde records that Hamdullah Efendi was born in H. 840/1436. During the Seljuk period and the Ottoman years of conquest, poets, calligraphers, artists and religious scholars migrated from cultural centres such as Herat, Khorasan and Samarkand, to Anatolian cities like Konya, Kayseri, Sivas and Amasya. 

Mehmed II (left) and Bayezid II (right), TIEM (16th century)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Hamdullah studied the aklâm-ı sitte (six scripts) under Hayreddin Mar‘aşî in Amasya, which had become a centre for the art of calligraphy. He probably met Şehzade Bayezid (the future Bayezid II) at gatherings held by his father Şeyh Mustafa Dede. Bayezid appointed Şeyh Hamdullah as his calligraphy teacher and received his diploma from him. Şeyh Hamdullah began to acquire a reputation as an outstanding calligrapher while still in Amasya and during that period made copies of several manuscripts for the personal library of Sultan Mehmed II.

Topkapı Palace by SALT Research, Photograph and Postcard ArchiveSakıp Sabancı Museum

When Bayezid II acceded to the throne in 1481 after a struggle for power with his younger brother Cem Sultan, he invited his calligraphy master to the court and Şeyh Hamdullah moved to Istanbul with his family. At the palace Şeyh Hamdullah was allocated a scriptorium near the Harem and another at Edirne Palace for writing copies of Korans, and was given the revenues of two villages in Üsküdar. Şeyh Hamdullah began to do his finest work after his court appointment and from then on signed his work with his name and the title “scribe to sultan Bayezid Han”

Prayer Anthology, Kubbealtı Foundation (Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

After Bayezid II renounced the throne in favour of his son Selim I in 1512, Şeyh Hamdullah withdrew from society. During the reign of Sultan Selim I he spent his time at home, praying and receiving visits from his students. When Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent succeeded his father Selim I in 1520, he invited Şeyh Hamdullah to the palace, received him respectfully and asked him to write a Koran for him. However, the calligrapher excused himself on account of his old age and recommended Muhyiddin Amâsî instead; at which Süleyman presented him with a sable-lined robe and received his blessing.

Müstakimzade (1719/1788)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Müstakimzâde relates that Şeyh Hamdullah died a few months later and records the following chronogram in couplet form giving the calligrapher’s date of death as H. 926/1520: “Şeyh Hamdullāh olup küttâba kıble pîr-i hat / Rihletinde dil dedi târîhini dayf-i ilâh”. Müstakimzâde gives his date of birth as H. 840/1436, which means that Şeyh Hamdullah died at the age of 84.

Karacaahmet Cemetery (1838) by SALT Research, Photograph and Postcard ArchiveSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah’s funeral prayers were held in Ayasofya Mosque and he was buried in Karacaahmet Cemetery in Üsküdar. Şeyh Hamdullah was a man who attached no importance to worldly prestige and status, and asked that his name not be inscribed on his tombstone. The inscription on his tombstone was written later by Şâhin Ağa (d. 1701), court calligrapher to Sultan Mustafa II. Many other celebrated calligraphers were buried close to Şeyh Hamdullah’s grave, which in time became known as Şeyh Sofası.

Şeyh Hamdullah on the 500th Anniversary of His Death (2020-12-10/2021-03-31) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

The Calligrapher Şeyh Hamdullah (1436-1520)

Hamdullah studied calligraphy under Hayreddin Mar’aşî (d. 1472?) and went on to become known as Yâkût-ı Sâni (the Second Yakut) because of his outstanding calligraphy in the style of Yâkût el-Musta'sımî (d. 1298), the renowned master calligrapher of the 13th century. Having studied the calligraphy of Yâkût el-Musta'sımî and Abdullah Sayrafi (d. after 1344)—both famous calligraphers of the Islamic world—Hamdullah copied works in the style of Yâkût for the library of Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81).

Koran, TIEM (Unknown) by Cemal AmasiSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah remained in Bayezid II’s (r. 1481- 1512) milieu at the palace in Istanbul after the prince succeeded to the throne. Both the sultan and his son Korkut (d. 1513) were among his students. Other calligraphers from Amasya at this time were Cemâl Amâsi (fl. 1507) and Abdullah Amâsî (fl. 1500). Şeyh Hamdullah’s most prominent followers were his son Mustafa Dede (d. 1538) and son-in-law Şükrullah Halife. Many calligraphers, including Hüseyin Şah (fl. 1557), Derviş Ali (d. 1673), Şekerzâde Seyyid Mehmed (d. 1753), Kazasker Mustafa İzzet (d. 1876), Mehmed Şevkî (d. 1887) and Hasan Rızâ (d. 1920), also followed Hamdullah’s path.

Aklam-ı Sitte, TMSK (Late 15th-Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah and the “Six Scripts”

The calligraphers İbnü’l-Mukle (d. 940), İbnü’l-Bevvâb(d. 1022) and Yâkût el-Musta'sımî (d. 1298) established the six script styles called the Aklâm-ı Sitte — tevkî‘, rıkâ,’ muhakkak, reyhânî, sülüs and nesih— in the art of calligraphy. Yâkût was the calligrapher who standardised the sizes and ratios of the letters in these writing styles.

Koran, TIEM (13th century) by Yakut el-Musta'simiSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah, a follower of Yâkût’s style, adapted these six writing styles to suit Ottoman taste, modifying the letters and the words. He perfected the shapes and ratios of the letters in the sülus and nesih scripts in particular, so creatinga unique style.

Şeyh Hamdullah on the 500th Anniversary of His Death (2020-12-10/2021-03-31) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Müstakimzâde Süleyman Sâdeddin (d.1788), the renowned biographer and calligrapher of the 18th century, describes the difficulty Şeyh Hamdullah faced while trying to reproduce on paper the beautiful shapes and harmonies conceived in his mind and says that this agony of creation lasted for days. He goes onto say that through what could be regarded as a miracle of God, Hamdullah eventually managed to put thewriting style he had dreamed of on paper. The use of this new style developed by Şeyh Hamdullah around 1485 gradually spread in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, particularly at the palace.

Aklam-ı Sitte, TMSK (Late 15th-Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah’s albums containing examples of the different writing styles have survived until today. A scroll preserved at the Topkapı Palace includes calligraphic compositions known as kıt’a consisting of Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths written by Hamdullah in the six script styles. He has written the name of the script next to each kıt’a. The last part of the scroll consists of Persian couplets by Evhadüddîn Kirmânî (d. 1238) and Hâfız-ı Şîrâzî, written by Hamdullah in ta‘lîk script.

Şeyh Hamdullah on the 500th Anniversary of His Death (2020-12-10/2021-03-31) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Şeyh Hamdullah and His Contemporaries at Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Sakıp Sabancı Museum contains a group of exceptional calligraphic works bearing the colophons of Şeyh Hamdullah (d. 1520). Single pages of kıt’a and other calligraphic compositions by Şeyh Hamdullah were carefully preserved in albums called murakka from the time they were written. These examples of his work demonstrate the new rules he defined; particularly the shapes of the letters and other stylistic features of the sülüs and nesih script hands.

Calligraphic album (1400s) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

One of the murakka albums in Sakıp Sabancı Museum contains four kıt’a bearing the colophon of this renowned calligrapher (SSM 120-0045). These kıt’as consist of hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad on the subject of the next world, virtue and vice, written on pages to which margins of marbled paper have been invisibly attached using the vassale technique. The pages are joined top to bottom to form a folding album, which is bound in brown leather.

Three of these compositions are written in the format one line of sülüs followed by three lines of nesih. The last kıt’a consists of one line of sülüs followed by four lines of nesih and the calligrapher has written his signature on the last line: “The humble İbnü’ş-Şeyh wrote this”.

Calligraphic album (1400s) by Containing calligraphies ascribed to Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Another murakka album by Şeyh Hamdullah in Sakıp Sabancı Museum contains fourteen kıt’a (SSM 120-0243). In the 18th century invisibly joined margins of marbled paper in diverse colours were attached to the pages on which these calligraphic compositions were written; they were illuminated in the style of the same period and bound into an album.

All the kıt’as consist of hadith by the Prophet Muhammad written in various formats; some consisting of one line of sülüs followed by five lines of nesih and a final line of sülüs, and others of one line of sülüs followed by four, five, six or seven lines of nesih. Next to the lines of nesih of the final kıt’a the calligrapher has written an Arabic colophon reading, “Written by the humble İbnü’ş-Şeyh, giving thanks to God and praying to the Prophet”.

En'am-ı Şerif (Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

An En’am surah with a colophon by Şeyh Hamdullah is also in the collection (SSM 101-0283). The manuscript consists of 24 folios and the Arabic colophon at the end reads, “This was written by the frailest of all worthless scribes, the most piteous of the humble, Hamdullah known as İbnü’ş- Şeyh. He wrote it giving thanks to Almighty God and delivering prayers to His Prophet Muhammad and his virtuous family.” The book was illuminated and rebound at a later date.

Enâm-ı Şerif (16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

One group of works in the collection are attributed to Şeyh Hamdullah, despite lacking colophons. It was a longstanding tradition for later master calligraphers to write notes on the last pages or endpapers of manuscripts without colophons identifying the calligrapher or confirming an earlier identification. This tradition continued into the mid-20th century. These notes were sometimes written by one calligrapher or sometimes by a committee of several leading calligraphers, in their own handwriting, and sometimes dated.

On the last page of an En’am surah attributed to Şeyh Hamdullah in Sakıp Sabancı Museum are notes written by leading calligraphers of the first half of the 19th century (SSM 101-0296): Ömer Vasfi (d. 1824), Mahmud Celalaeddin (d. 1829), Kebecizade Mehmed Vasfi (d. 1831) and Ebubekir Raşid (d. 1856). The note in the most prominent position on the page is that by Ömer Vasfi, a teacher at the Palace School, so we can assume that he was the first to be asked his opinion. Below his fairly long note he has written the date 1240/1824. Kebecizade not only attributes the manuscript to Şeyh Hamdullah in his note, but also states that it is one of his early works.

Koran (Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

A Koran attributed to Şeyh Hamdullah in the collection was also presented to a group of five noted calligraphers of the same period for authentication (SSM 100-0280): Kazasker Mustafa İzzet (d. 1876), Mehmed Hulusi (d. 1874), Mehmed Şevki (d. 1887), Abdullah Zühdi (d. 1874) and Mehmed Şefik (d. 1880). Mehmed Şefik wrote, “As our master, chief of scholars and superior, Mustafa İzzet, has confirmed, so do I give my confirmation” and wrote the date 1287 (1870-71). From this note, we know that the book was first shown to the master calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa İzzet for his opinion, and that the act of giving an expert opinion was known at this time as tasdik.

Enâm-ı Şerif by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Another En’am surah attributed to Şeyh Hamdullah in the collection has a note of attribution written by Mehmed Şevki next to the last lines of the text, and explaining that this manuscript dates from the middle period of Şeyh Hamdullah’s career (SSM 101-0358).

Calligraphic composition (Late 15th-Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

Evidently Kazasker Mustafa İzzet and Mehmed Şevki were frequently asked to undertake such identification in the 19th century. The same was true for Chief of the Calligraphers (reisü’l-hattatin) Ahmed Kamil Akdik (d. 1941) in the 20th century. A kıt’a in Sakıp Sabancı Museum has been attributed to Şeyh Hamdullah by Ahmed Kamil Akdik, who wrote, “This is the calligraphy of the esteemed Şeyh Hamdullah Efendi” on the back (SSM 110-0457).

Calligraphic composition (Late 15th-Early 16th century) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

The calligrapher Şeyh Hamdullah has written the words “O my God! I take refuge from anxieties in you” in sülüs next to the kıt’a, and a hadith reading, “The Prophet of God—May God’s prayers and greetings be upon him—commanded thus: Those of you who pray often to me will have many houris in heaven”, is written in nesih next to the two lines below. A frame of green marbled silver speckled paper surrounds the kıt’a.

En’am-ı Şerif (c. 1500) by an anonymous calligrapher reminiscent of the style of Abdullah AmasîSakıp Sabancı Museum

The calligraphy of an En’am surah dating from around 1500 in the collection is reminiscent of the style of the calligrapher Abdullah Amâsî (d. after 1500), who was a pupil of Şeyh Hamdullah’s maternal uncle Celâleddin Amâsî (d. 1488) (Manuscript Institution of Turkey, Süleymaniye Library, nr.10). The writing resembles Amasi’s format in the muhakkak and nesih script hands, consisting of one line of muhakkak and three lines of nesih arranged alternately, and the illuminated panel on the first page dates from the early 16th century (SSM 101-0336).

Prayer Book (1520) by Hüseyin ŞahSakıp Sabancı Museum

A prayer book in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum collection was written by Hüseyin Şah (flourished ca. 1557), one of the young calligraphers of the next generation who wrote in the style of Şeyh Hamdullah. The manuscript is undated but it is thought that Hüseyin Şah wrote it following the death of Şeyh Hamdullah, who was his teacher in Amasya, and whom he followed to Istanbul (SSM 103-0361).

Prayer Book (1520) by Hüseyin ŞahSakıp Sabancı Museum

In the colophon of the book, Hüseyin Şah describes himself as the gulam (serving boy) of Şeyh Hamdullah. The bibliophiles who owned the book in the second half of the 19th century, long before it was acquired by the museum, can be identified from two seal impressions on folio 1r. The first belongs to someone called Tahsin Hasan and the second to his son Osman b. Tahsin Hasan.

Koran (1500s) by Crown Prince KorkutSakıp Sabancı Museum

One of the people who were in the same artistic circle as Şeyh Hamdullah was Sultan Bayezid II’s son Şehzade Korkut (d. 1513), who served as governor of Manisa and Antalya. Korkut was a calligrapher and is thought to have studied under Şeyh Hamdullah. The only Koran known to be the work of Şehzade Korkut is in Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM 100-0279). Dating from around 1500, the illuminated opening spread of the manuscript has lappets projecting into the margin, making it the forerunner of this type of design, which became widespread in the first half of the 16th century.

Koran (c. 1500) by an unknown calligrapherSakıp Sabancı Museum

Another Koran in Sakıp Sabancı Museum also dates from around 1500 but the identity of its calligrapher is unknown (SSM 100-0269). However, the illumination is the work of a master, probably the same palace artist who illuminated a group of books written by Şeyh Hamdullah.

Kasâyid-i Efsahî der medh-i Sultan Bayezid, an unknown master calligrapher, 1495, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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An exquisite manuscript in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum collection consists of poems in the qasida form in praise of Şeyh Hamdullah’s patron Sultan Bayezid II written in Persian by the poet Efsahi (SSM 190-0318). This copy is in nestalik script that is probably the work of a master calligrapher employed at the Ottoman palace art studio around 1495, and it is illuminated by a skilled artist.

Şeyh Hamdullah on the 500th Anniversary of His Death (2020-12-10/2021-03-31) by Şeyh HamdullahSakıp Sabancı Museum

These manuscripts and calligraphic compositions in Sakıp Sabancı Museum are outstanding examples of Ottoman arts of the book. Written by Şeyh Hamdullah and contemporary calligraphers, and decorated by master illuminators, they reflect the flourishing artistic milieu of the reign of Sultan Bayezid II.

Credits: Story

Exhibition Concept

Dr. Nazan Ölçer

Ayşe Aldemir
Collections Manager

Academic Advisors

Prof. Dr. Muhittin Serin
Prof. Dr. Zeren Tanındı

Exhibition Management

Ayşe Aldemir
Collections Manager

Halet Uluant
Collections Officer


Nurçin Kural Özgörüş
Conservation Laboratory Manager

Digital Adaptation

Osman Serhat Karaman
digitalSSM Archive and Research Space Manager

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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