The Book of Felicity is a marvellous example of Islamic manuscript from Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Turkey. The codex, also known as Libro de la Felicidad, was written and illuminated in the second half of the 16th century and it features an outstanding iconographic apparatus that, with its depictions of the 12 signs of the zodiac, is a superb example of the book painting production of the Ottoman Empire.
The Book of Felicity: a superb Turkish-Ottoman Illumination
From an iconographic standpoint, the 16th and early 17th century can be considered, with no doubt, as the most productive period of Turkish-Ottoman painting and this certainly reflects in the Book of Felicity featuring descriptions of the 12 signs of the zodiac, beautifully illuminated miniatures, astrological and astronomical tables, and illustrations representing how human lives are influenced by the planets.
Nakkaş Osman from the Seraglio Workshop
The artist behind the illustrative cycle of the Book of Felicity is the famous master Nakkaş Osman who in addition to directing the entire apparatus, was also the artist responsible for the images regarding the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Osman, active between 1559 and 1596 and director of the Seraglio workshop from 1570 onwards, created a lifelike style which became inspirational to many other artists in Murad’s court.
In addition to the miniatures, another iconographic element of the manuscript are the decorative features that fill the pages of the codex, for example, we may notice peacocks, fish, eagles, and several other animals, all stylized in such a way which betrays a Japanese artistic influence.
Murad III: Sultan and Commissioner
The commissioner of such an interesting manuscript is fortunately known on account of a portrait on f. 7v depicting the Sultan Murad III (1546-1595), a learned man, who had the original text translated from Arabic to Turkish.
He ruled from Constantinople, a city where architects, artists, poets, calligraphers, ect. thrived under the patronage of Murad III, a great amateur of arts and grandson of Suleiman the Magnificent. It appears that the sultan commissioned the work for his daughter Fatima, only one of his 103 children.
From Egypt to France
The manuscript was brought to Europe from Cairo by Gaspard Monge, count of Peluse and famous geometer, and was entrusted to the National Bibliotheque of France on behalf Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Images courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France