The Menazilname, also known as the “account of the stages of Sultan Süleyman Khan’s Iraqi campaign”, is among the most prominent works of the distinguished Bosniak historian Matrakçı Nasuh, as well as an exquisite example of Ottoman art from the period of Kanunî Sultan Süleyman’s reign (1520-1566). Its historical narrative in Turkish language and 107 elaborate miniature paintings describe the route taken by the Ottoman army during the Sultan’s Iraqi campaign in 1534.
The Middle East through the eyes of a miniaturist
The Menazilname boasts 107 miniature paintings that take up 25 full pages. Both the pictures and the text of the book being composed by Matrakçı Nasuh — the paint and techniques employed are unusual and the style is very different from that of other illustrated manuscripts of the same period.
Nasuh's style is exceptionally realistic, especially with regards to local flora and fauna. Most of the terrain was painted green since the campaign started in spring when the vegetation was flourishing; however, when the army entered desert regions, Nasuh changed the background color accordingly to the color of sand.
In the course of the campaign, including the return journey to Istanbul, the army passed 261 staging posts, including Konya, Sivas, Tabriz, Hamadan, Hille, Baghdad, and Aleppo. Nasuh had a unique style of expression in architecture and emphasized local architectural features such as flat roofs and domes: depictions of Ottoman domes are different from Persian and Iraqi ones.
Unlike other manuscripts made for the Sultan’s palace, in the Menazilname very little gold was used. When depicting meadows and grassy areas, the ground was painted entirely in green and figures painted over this, resulting in heavy pages. Some of the paint laid over the green ground did not adhere properly and is partially rubbed off.
Matrakçı Nasuh: a multifaceted author and artist
The Menazilname is of particular importance among the works of Matrakçı Nasuh, a prominent artist who was trained during Kanuni Sultan Suleiman’s reign (1520-1566) and who introduced a new style to Ottoman painting. Nasuh was an outstanding historian, mathematician, calligrapher, swordsman, and artist whose cognomen “Matrakçi” refers to matrak, an Ottoman game played with wooden sticks.
In 1924, the manuscript was transferred from Yıldiz Palace Library to the Rare Books Section of Istanbul University, where it is currently stored.
The Menazilname has lost its original binding, and during rebinding the pages were trimmed at the edges, as is evident from the pictures.