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"Ebru has perpetually changing harmony,and requires great dedication and patience."
Ebru Master -  Mustafa Duzgunman



The art of marbling is the art of obtaining the paper dyed in a myriad of colors which was used for decoration in the art known as calligraphy.

Coming over the Silk Road to Anatolia from the Turks ancient homeland, the art set out from Bukhara in Turkestan, picked up its name (ebru) in Iran, and settled in Anatolia.

Was the name it acquired from Farsi ebri on account of its cloud-like appearance? Or was it ab-ru because it was created on water in a vessel?  This is not very clear. In our museums and in private collections one finds examples of paper marbling which go back as far as 450 years from the present day. A determination of date is possible in the case of marbled paper on which something has been written, and for this reason one perhaps may be able to determine the name of the calligrapher. The name of the artist doing the marbling however remains unknown.

 The reason that there is no definite evidence about the history and original place of marbling art is that we have few inscribed sources related to this art but the researchers’s general opinion is that marbling art has been existing since the latest 15th century. Even some researchers assume that it has roots till 6th century. The quotation of Mevlana, the world-wide well-known philosopher, poet and “Sufi” in Turkish history, “Come then who says water isn’t embroidery” is thought to sign this art was known in 12th. century. According to certain records, this known art developed as soon as paper took place in history scene. Some water works’ existence made on average such as called “liu-fla-cien” in China, “suminagashi” and “beninagashi”in Japan since 12th century  gives clue even doubtfully about improvement of this art which occured in Turkmenistan named “ebre” in Jagatai Turkish later. As this art, named ebri while was being transferred from Turkestan to Iran following Silk Road latest at the beginning of 16th century looks like wisps of clouds, it really verifies this Persian name indicating “cloud”. This name which was favorite in Ottoman country turned into “ebru”.

At the end of the same century, marbling papers took their way from Istanbul to their hometowns by European travellers, who approved these with the name “Turkish marbled paper” firstly in Germany, then France and Italy. Marbled paper which was improved in England and America shows difference as to each country’s art conception. There should be the role of the materials used as well. Oldest “Ebru” sample which was recorded dates back to 16th century. It was used as side paper for paper ornament, inner and outer of tablets and as manuscript binder. The old classical work written in Turkish about marbling is the pamphlet called ’Tertib-i Risale-i Ebr-i’ which was written after 1615. Today, classic works like marbling appeared in Central Asia and Ottoman geography. Besides the oldest ebru papers dated in this manner are the papers used in Arifi's "Guy-i Cevgan" in the Museum of Topkapi Palace collection which is dated to 1539 (Figure.1), two papers in the Library of Istanbul University which were used for two calligraphies of Mir Ali of Herat which are dated to 1539, a paper used for Maliki Deylemi's calligraphies from Ugur Derman's Collection which is dated to 1554 (Figure.2)  and three papers used in one of the copies of Fuzuli's book, "Hadikat-us sueda" (Garden of Happiness) which are dated to 1595 (Figure.3)  can be used as evidence for the history of Turkish ebru. They were used for decorative purposes, and also as a background for official documents and signatures, to prevent erasure and forgery.

(Figure.1) Arifi's "Guy-i Cevgan" in the Museum of Topkapi Palace collection, 1539

(Figure.2) Ta’lik (calligraphy) on marbled paper, by Malik-i Deylemi, 1554, Georgia.

The Chain of Tradition

Like all the classical Ottoman arts, the art of marbling was one which was not taught by writing or explanation, but rather was a branch of art in which students were trained by means of the "master/apprentice" system. The ability to turn out marbling which was truly beautiful was something of which only artists who had devoted years -and even their lives- to this art could be worthy.

Nevertheless, for one reason or another, this deep-rooted Turkish art has lost its historical prevalence, and has only managed to survive down to the present day thanks to the last four links in the master/apprentice chain of which we shall now make mention.



The earliest marbling artist whose name has been determined to date is that of one with the by-name "Sebek", mention of which is made in the Tertib-I Risale-i Ebri ("Organised Treatise on Marbling"), which is the oldest document relating the methods and constituents of marbling, as published by Mr. Ugur Derman in his book on the art of marbling. Sadık Efendi, an important figure in the history of ebru, received his training in Bukhara and later on joined Özbekler Tekkesi, a dervish lodge founded in Istanbul in 17th century, passing down his knowledge to the next generation.











(Figure.3) Marbled Fuzuli's poems book "Hadikat-us sueda" (Garden of Happiness) papers, by Sebek Mehmet Efendi, 1595, Suleymaniye Library

(Figure 4) Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri. The oldest written booklet about "History and technique of Ebru", 1608

His death must be before the publication of "Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri", 1608 since it is said "rahimehullah" (May God bless his soul) for him in this booklet. It is understood from the words "Nusha-i Sebek" (booklet of Sebek) in the "Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri" that he has an unknown booklet.


Considered one of the greatest ebru (marbled paper) artists, Hatip Mehmed Efendi is from Istanbul. He is known as "hatip" (preacher) because he was the preacher of Ayasofya Mosque. The date of his birth is unknown. Because he is mentioned as "pir-i mubarek" (holly old master) in the "Tuhfe-i Hattatin", he was probably quite old when he died in April 1773. He has learnt "tuluth-nesh" calligraphy from Zuhdi Ismail Aga. He is credited as the inventor of ebru figures created by dropping concentric dyes and reshaping them with a needle, ebru papers containing such figures are called "hatip-ebrūsu". (Some recent historians have argued though that the origin of these figures may be different.) His ebru papers which were identified by their distinctive colours and hatip patterns have been extremely popular and avidly collected during his lifetime. He died in the fire which destroyed his home in Hocapasa district of Istanbul, April 1773.

(Figure.5) Hatip Mehmet Efendi "Hatip Ebrusu" Suleymaniye Library

Sheikh Sadik Efendi who was born in the city of Vabakne in Bukhara.  He was the sheikh of the Ozbekler Tekkesi (Uzbekh Dervish Convent) in Sultantepesi, Uskudar. We know that he learnt the art of ebru when he was in Bukhara and he taught it to his two sons Edhem and Salih. It is read from his tombstone in the Dergah that he died on the 11th of July 1846

Ibrahim Edhem Efendi who was the Sheikh of Uskudar Ozbekler Tekkesi is considered as the most distinguished marbler of the last century. He was the grandfather of Turkey's ex-ambassador to Washington, Munir Ertegun (1882-1944). He was born in the Ozbekler Tekkesi in 1829. He has been educated by his father Sadik Efendi, his uncle and the scholars from Bukhara visiting the Tekke. He was proficient in Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Cagatai. He learnt ta'lik script from Carsambalı Arif Bey at a quite an old age. He was a carpenter, metal caster, weaver, printer, architect, scientist and a mathematician. He was appointed as the first principal to Sultanahmet School of Crafts in 1869 and it was here that the first lead pipes were cast in Turkey. Producing ebru papers was one of his many talents which made him famous as Hezarfen (owner of a thousand crafts). Besides Aziz Efendi and Sami Efendi, the most distinguished of his students is Necmeddin Okyay.He died on the 8th of January 1904 and buried in the cemetery of the Tekke.


(Figure.6-7) Necmeddin Okyay Ebru examples

He was born on the 29th of January 1885 in Uskudar. He was the master marbler of the twentieth century. Necmeddin Okyay was educated in theology but he is best known as a calligrapher and marbler. Besides calligraphy and marbling, he was a master of ink-making, traditional bookbinding, rose-growing, archery etc. He learnt ebru from Hezarfen Edhem Efendi. He taught calligraphy at Medresetu'l Hattatin (School of Calligraphy) and traditional bookbinding and ebru at the Academy of Fine Arts. He taught ebru to his sons Sami (1910-12 June 1933) and Sacid (1915-19 April 1999) Okyay and to his nephew Mustafa Duzgunman (1920-12 September 1990) .Before Necmeddin Okyay, we had very primitive flower ebrus. He started a new style in our ebru history by creating flower designs which are admired by the marblers of the world. He is also the inventor of calligraphy with marbling. At the beginning he used to prepare stencils of calligraphies, glue them on the paper to be marbled using gum Arabic which is a very weak adeshive and remove the stencil after the paper has been marbled. Later he noticed that the parts of the paper which has gum Arabic resist the dyes and he started to write with gum Arabic instead of ink. The most famous of calligraphies produced by Necmeddin Okyay as described is the "Lafza-i Celal" ( name of God ).

Necmettin Okyay turned out a considerable number of exquisite marblings in addition to which he opened a new age in the style of "Floral Marbling" which until then had undergone much primitive experimentation yet had failed to achieve anything specific in form. It was he who produced marblings which resulted in near-depictions of tulips, daisies, hyacinths, poppies, carnations, pansies, and rosebuds. The Floral Marblings of this style began to be referred to a "Necmettin Marbling". At last, marbling was no longer a colored piece or paper adorning a piece of writing: it had now been raised to the level of a work of art in and of itself and worthy of its own study.

If we consider that this “Ebru” should have been performed is made as only after the artist becomes skilled, it may be thought that marbling has old origin. Marbling which was a branch of business and art in itself in Ottoman period started to be forgotten at the beginning of 20th.century A recent interest towards this art arose thanks to big artist Necmeddin Okyay.


(Figure.8-9) Mustafa Duzgunman Ebru example and while he is painting.


Mustafa Esat Düzgünman was Necmeddin Okyay's premier student and the teacher of many contemporary marblers in Turkey today. He is known for codifying the traditional repertoire of ebru patterns, to which he only added a floral daisy design, in the manner of his teacher.

Notwithstanding the large number of students which he trained, Mustafa Düzgünman, is the sole name in the art of marbling today. He has produced exquisite works both in the floral marbling instituted by his teacher (master) Necmettin Efendi, and at the same time in all the other types of marbling as well.

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