İznik Mavi Çini The Reflection of the Sun in Ottoman Art: The Şemse Motif - İznik Mavi Çini
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The Reflection of the Sun in Ottoman Art: The Şemse Motif

The Reflection of the Sun in Ottoman Art: The Şemse Motif

3 September 2023

Derived from the Arabic word "şems" meaning "sun", the şemse motif has been used as a standalone motif in the form of a frame that confines its inner design. This motif has played a fundamental role in designing various composition schemes for Ottoman art.

The Place of Şemse in Bookbinding

Bookbinding is at the forefront of the arts that primarily utilize the şemse. Early examples of şemses placed in the center of the leather covers of handwritten books, both front and back, and if present, on the spine, are round with segmented edges. Over time, the şemses have become oval, with extensions called salbeks added to both ends.

The Evolution and Depictions of Şemse

It is assumed that the hooks drawn on the edges of many şemses depict sun rays. The cover arrangement where corner pieces are placed on the four corners of the salbek-bearing şemses has remained unchanged for centuries, with only the motifs decorating the insides of the şemses varying. The interiors of the şemses on both the covers and the illuminated first pages, called zahriye, of Seljuk, Mamluk, and early Ottoman manuscripts are adorned with rumis, stylized plant, and geometric patterns.

Şemse in the Ottoman Classical Period

In the Ottoman classical period, hatayis, Chinese clouds, and naturalist flowers are prominent in the inner arrangements of the şemses. In the art of bookbinding during this period, free-flowing and quarter-symmetric schemes are encountered, while semi-symmetric schemes are preferred especially in Iznik tiles.

Şemse in Tiles

The first example of a şemse-bearing panel from the Ottoman period can be seen in the tiles on either side of the mihrab in Bursa's Green Tomb, executed in a colorful glaze technique. In blue and white ceramics dated to the late 15th century and early 16th century, the şemse motif is used alongside stylized plant motifs. From the second half of the 16th century onwards, the use of şemse in tiles became widespread, as seen in the Edirne Selimiye Mosque, predominantly preferred in arrangements. Oval medallions or şemses that open from one to another and repeat endlessly are spaced out, enriching the composition with decorative bands surrounding them. Şemses appear in border tiles, interlocking pattern tiles, and panels in various arrangements; the flowers inside them, such as tulips, cloves, roses, and hyacinths, symmetrically branch out from a single root or rise on a single stem.

Şemse in Uşak Carpets

The şemse motif also holds a significant place in Uşak carpets. It has been the characteristic motif of 'medallion' Uşak carpets woven from the 16th to the 18th century. This type of carpet consists of a composition scheme that features round or oval medallions in the central axis and pointed segmented medallions on the sides, extending into infinity. The medallions have been elongated with salbeks emerging from the top and bottom; their interiors are filled with rumis, and the intervening ground is filled with flowers. Alongside this scheme seen in kemhas and çatmas dated to the 16th and 17th centuries, the cornered şemse arrangement in bookbinding art has been fondly used on çatma cushion faces. The central emphasis of the şemse motif, aptly named, being in the form of a radiant medallion resembling the sun, is another noteworthy application. On pure prayer rugs, there are şemses with flower bouquets similar to those on tile panels in the center of each niche from which a lamp hangs. In palace carpets, on silken floor spreads woven on the island of Chios, the salbek-bearing şemse composition from bookbinding decorations has been used.

European Influence and the Continuity of Şemse

Although many motifs have been abandoned under the influence of European art, the use of şemse has continued within the traditional patterns of bookbinding. As a result of opening up to the West in the art of illumination, new styles have merged with the traditional art perception, creating a new style called Turkish Rococo. In the ornate illuminated manuscripts of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in the margins of the Qur'ans, there are elegant examples adorned with flower bouquets in a naturalist style among the sun-shaped rosette marks. Floral şemses of the same delicacy have also been applied to metal works.

The Unique Reflection of Şemse in Ottoman Art

Şemse is an important element that reflects the depths and aesthetic understanding of Ottoman art. Throughout history, it has taken on different forms and meanings, leaving behind a cultural and aesthetic legacy. Bringing together this rich cultural heritage of the Ottomans with a modern design approach, Şemsli Naturalist Pattern is brought to your homes with the unique design of Serap Ereyli and İznik Mavi Çini. This unique piece, measuring 40x100 cm, is a masterpiece where history and art meet. You can click on the link to access the panel and bring this artistic heritage to your home.


Motif, Turgut Saner, Şebnem Eryavuz, and Hülya Bilgi, pp.180-181.


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