21 July 2008

The Owls of Constantinople

Here are two small owls from Constantinople.

The first, soft watercolor owl was made for a woman-- the wealthiest woman in the world in her day-- Anicia Juliana, daughter of an emperor of Rome, bright, nervy, possibly jealous because she was not empress, and builder of Agios Polyeuktos (524-527), the largest and most magnificent church ever built, until Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, jealous of her accomplishments and wealth started building Agia Sophia five years later.

This little owl comes from a page of birds , one of 498 miniatures in a book on medicine and science given to her by the congregation of a church she built in 512 (although she must have actually paid for the manuscript). The manuscript is called the Vienna Dioscorides now, though what she called it is anybody's guess. Between Anicia Juliana and Vienna, the manuscript was treasured by everyone who touched it and became a model to be copied. It stayed in Constantinople under a variety of owners, mostly non-Greek, until bought by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and brought to Vienna.

The other owl was drawn in about 1438 by the eight-year old Mehmed, son of Murad II, Sultan of Rum, the latest to gnaw away at Justinian's empire. He was probably living in Adrianople at the time, but the manuscript came with him to Constantinople in 1453, a page in a book of school exercises . He might have owned Anicia Juliana's book, or not: a hundred years later it belonged to the Jewish doctor of his great-grandson.

Something else you see on that page are his very early lessons in writing Turkish in the Arabic script which the Turks used until 1928. And at the top of the page, the twelve-year old Mehmed practiced the elements of his signature as sultan, his tugra, because his father opted out of ruling and made him sultan for four years.

Also bright, also nervy, Mehmed became sultan for good in February 1451, just before his twenty-first birthday, and on 29 May 1453 he rode into Anicia Juliana's city as sole possessor. Her church had long been rubble: it had been abandoned and was in use as a stone quarry before the Western Christians took possession in 1204.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I will not publish Anonymous comments.