Amir Temur and Philippe Brunelleschi

Issue #3-4 • 5321

From the early childhood,
The unbaptized and Christian
are warring;
All peoples as one
Eager the divine heritage.
The devil has seized the world.
Let’s regain our fate.
The God for those who
is courageous in fight!
Walter von der Fogelveide (1).

The big events form the history, though the details, which sometimes were neglected, could be lighted again and obtain the force to enrich the past and present. In historiography, the possible connection of Temur’s epoch with the Italian Renaissance has still remained rather unclear. For Europe, this epoch was somewhere behind crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries. German poet Fogelveide, traveling over Europe, brightly described the atmosphere of their enmity. However, the future belonged to growing contacts and exchanges. “Culturally and intellectually, Europeans conceded to Arabs and studied, translating their works” (2, p. 17). “The West obtained so much from contacts with more advanced Islamic civilization that the medieval Christianity actually became more civilized” (3, p. 177 – 178). Christian Europe and the Muslim East entered Renaissance together. Today, their cross-impact is more often just declared, than essentially analyzed. Unique examples from history of architecture reveal growing interest of Europeans to Central Asia of Temur’s epoch and to Samarkand architectural style.

In Europe, the words “East”, “Islam” and even “Arabs” were frequently related to far Central Asia. In 1222, and probably earlier, the German merchants constructed German caravanserai “Fandako den Tedeschi” (from Arabian – “cobnut”) at the Rialto Bridge in Venice. When the trade with Central Asia grew, merchants from different countries used this trading center and in 1268, the caravanserai became the public building. The Mongolian invasion strengthened xenophobia, but did not interrupt contacts on the Great Silk Road. “In Bukhara, the dealers from Venice met the Chinese governor Qublai Khan, joined his caravan driving home and so became the first European explorers of the East ” (4, p. 78).

The Central Asian Empire of the Seljukids (1075 – 1318) brought the design of domes, to the Mediterranean close to the European gothic style due to crossed arches and shells between them. “This oriental influence was a major engine of Italian art” (5, p. 127), when heavy Romanesque was replaced by eight and dynamic Gothic. “The design of arches and double shell of the dome at the mausoleum of Sandjar outran the architects of the Oljeitu mausoleum in Sultania by one and a half of century and Phillipe Brunelleschi, the author of the famous dome of Santa Maria del Phiore in Florence – by three centuries” (6, p. 122).

By the 14th century, Gothic had won in the conflict with Classics and spread in Italy. “The palace of doges, having been built in Venice in 1340-1441, finished up with architecture of Italian city halls. Venetian trading oligarchy well knew the East and imitated the architectural samples of the Mongols and Mamelukes. That was recognition of their mighty architectural style. It was reflected in ceramic facing of facades at the Palace of Doges, reminding Central Asian structures, especially the Temurid buildings of the 15th century. The facade of the palace looking at the Venetian gulf is decorated by the columns with capitals exposing pictures of eight nations, including Italians, Tartars and Turks – Ottomans (successors of Turks-Seljuks from 1299)” (7, p. 173 – 183).

“Tartars” were side by side with Italians not only in sculptures of this palace, but also in many Italian cities. In 1347, the Genoa fleet, together with spices, imported rats, carriers of Black Death from India. The four fifth of Florentines were struck by the terrible disease and died. The deserted city was peopled by Tartars and Circassians from the northwestern Caucasus, brought to Florence as labour. Almost each rich Florentine has at least two servants from Muslims (Turks, Par-thians, Chaldeans). The poet and scientist, Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374) gave them a nickname – “domestic enemies”. The Euro-peans thought that “Tartars” were from Central Asia and Siberia. Till now, the European dictionaries interpret this word borrowed from Persian “Tatars” as “irri-table, severe and intrac-table people”. However, very soon Italian Renaissance turned to the architectural genius of this “horrifying race”.

Amir Temur had already been reigning (since 1360), and the future genius of Italian Renaissance, Philippe Brunelleschi was just born (in 1377), when, in the name of civil Christian ideals, the relics began to be brought from churches and cathedrals to the streets and crowded crossroads. In the center of Florence, “foothold of Christianity” – commer-cial and industrial corporation Arte Della Lana constructed “noble palace pubblico”, mentioned in 1394 for the first time. Agnus Dei, the emblem of the Guild, still decorates the building. This emblem brought the culture of Italy up to descendants of Temur: in Lahore, in 1595, Emperor Akbar put on the ceremonial robe, presented to him and having the picture of Holy Mother on the one side and Agnus Dei on the other (8, p. 54). At the end of the 14th century, the chapel was removed from the corner of Arte Della Lana Palace to the street. Its vertical silhouette and vaults were taken from Gothic, and the details have obviously oriental character. Two portal columns have “torqued” bodies. On their capitals, there are florid consoles. They carry two tympans with the lancet arch. Such islamization of Christian corporation’s headquarter was promoted by Venice, where lancet “windows – mihrabs” became fashio-nable in the 14th c. The new style was developed in details of the chapel, probably, by Muslim masters. So, pure Christian impulses of Renaissance were initially attired in Muslim forms.

Europe feared the Turkic invasion and breathed again, when, in 1402, Temur reached the Mediterranean and defea-ted the Ottomans near Ankara. As earlier in India, Temur shook the stagna-ting centralized system and liberated independent state formations. He brought back the lands to independent emirates of Anatolia, which were annexed by Bayazid I. In winter 1402 – 1403, grateful governors of the emirate – Musa Bei and his brother received Temur in Tyr (9, p. 97). Military genius of Temur had spread as far as Seljukid’s. However, his construction policy had more “centripetal” charac-ter: architects and samples of architecture from conquered countries were sent to Samarkand. Europe seriously took the policy and high-flying architec-ture of Temur. To receive the information first-hand, the European ambassadors visited Samarkand. Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo from Spain was the most famous of them.

In these conditions, the architecture of Italy started to sound in Central Asian manner, almost in Uzbek. The dome for future Santa Maria del Phiore, finished in 1410, was named by a new word – “tamburо”. By that time, the dance “tambourin” to accompaniment of a drum with metal disks within its frame became popular on the neighbouring coast of the Mediterranean, in the southeastern province of France, Provence. Arab-Spanish conflicts brought it there. In 1212, the armies of Castile, Aragon and Navarre stopped the Arabian expansion to Europe, in spite of Spaniards’ horses were badly terrified by drums of the Arabian armies (10, p. 47, 275). The original names of these flat ringing “daf” (in Arab) and “def” (in Turkish) testify to mutual influence of Muslim cultures in the Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, why did the Europe, which accepted these drums, name them differently? Their European names go not from Persian “tabirah” (drum), as the western dictionaries comment, but from Turkic: Uzbek “dombira” means a drum, including in architecture. “Tambour” in French and English also means a drum, but as the architectural term means a door of a cupboard and a tambour between two doors. Just Florentine “tamburо” penetrated into some European languages, for example, into Polish, as a new term for a drum of a dome. The 14th – 15th centuries were the time of Central Asia blossoming, and consequently penetration of its architecture and architectural terms into Europe.

At that particular time, Europe got acquainted with architecture of Temur, which stretched dome drums skyward. By the birth date of Temur, this tendency had been just occurred in architecture of Samarkand. Temur had given dynamics and might to it. While in the mid-14th century the dome of Khodja Ahmad mausoleum in Shahi-Zinda had 5 m in diameter and 3.5 m in height, in the first quarter of the 15th century the external dome the Kazi-zade Rumi mausoleum (astronomer from the Ulugbeg’s observatory), having almost the same diameter – 6.5 m, reached 12 m in height. It had grown by 3.5 times, what is twice more in comparison with diameter, due to a massive drum, equal to the internal dome. These world important experiments in Samarkand became something like revolutions in pro-Muslim Gothic in Italy. They opened new architectural opportunities and, logically, reached Florence searching for some acceptable drum and dome for the cathedral, being under construction for over 100 years.

Both Italian Classics and Gothic provided arches between stone columns with octahedron on them, as a basis of a dome. In Asia, octahedron was erected from a level of the ground. At the mausoleum of Oljeitu (1305 – 1313) in Sultania (Iran), the dome was installed on such octahedron, practically without any drum. The drums came into architecture at the time of Temur. In Florence, the drum was constructed as octahedron from a level of the ground and supported by square pylons, precisely imitating the plan of Oljeitu mausoleum. From 1366, the Florentine architects designed “the widest and highest” dome especially for this drum with “tamburо as its pedestal” (11, p. 6-9).

In 1417, 40-years old Philppe Brunelleschi was entrusted to erect unprecedented dome on Santa Maria del Phiore. The dome was lancet, unlike Romance one-centered arches and domes. Accented stone ribs point out their prototype – the frame of Turkic yurt. Brunelleschi imitated both a silhouette and double dome of the Oljeitu mausoleum. The inner frame of Oljeitu’s dome was further developed in the original design of the Florentine dome, having eight vertical ribs and nine horizontal circles with stone and wooden links. Eight ribs together with nine circles (according to a number of Paradise heavens) formed caissons, which lightened the dome and which were a subject of Brunelleschi admiring in the Roman Pantheon. Such stone frame allowed to enlarge diameter from 24.5 m, as it was in Sultanian brick dome, up to 42 m in Florence. The caissons were filled with bricklaying after the Seljuk domes. In documents of 1426, Brunelleschi mentioned the circular bricklaying in a form of “herringbone” or spiral bricklaying in a form of “fish backbone”. “He had known about it, probably, thanks to intelligential and commercial contacts” (12, p. 85 – 86). The pre-Seljuk mausoleum of Gaznavid governor Arslan Djazib in Sangbast near Masshad (Iran) has the dome formed by concentric “herringbones”. The grand mosque in Eski Malatia (Turkey) was erected in 1224 with the dome from spirals of “fish backbones”.

Some experts connect the bricklaying “fish backbone” (“spinapesce”) with “opus spicatum” – so the ancient Romans named one more type of masonry. It was made from marble bars and plates on a floor and walls (for example, in the villa of Adrian in Tivoli). We should note that “opus spicatum” had a decorative function, instead of engineering. In the domes, the engineering “rows of bricks – spinapesce came into practice from the 11th century, first, in Veneto area (near Venice. – Sh. A.), mainly, for small niches” (13, p. 613 – 614). It means that Philippe Brunelleschi was not the first Italian architect, who borrowed this technique from the Seljukids. Meanwhile, he was the first who transferred it from “small niches” to rather big dome. This pro-Oriental tendency in the Romance architecture declared itself loudly at the time of Temur and Brunelleschi.

Some scholars believe that only the dome of Oljeitu mausoleum inspired the Florentines. The careful analysis proves that its layout is borrowed too: it attracted by its substantial foundations. The Florentines could not rest here and added apses to foundations at their three sides: their cross walls, arcs-boutants and domes strengthened resistance to central dome’s thrust. Probably, magnificence of the cathedral caused its name – the Holy Virgin of Flower.

Italian-Turkic contacts were long and productive. Spirals of “fish backbone” reached zenith of Santa Maria del Phiore’s dome. Under the pressure of the upper rows, these spirals turned into something like tenacious veins, which strongly hold horizontal rows of bricklaying” (12, p. 86-87). So, the largest, after the period of Roman empire, dome was erected without hundreds of falseworks, as if self-growing. The Venetian palace Ka’ d’Oro (1434) demonstrated “evolution of the Venetian-Byzantine tastes up to aglow Gothic thanks to beauty of the facade, which reminds the oriental carpet because of its structural composition” (14, p. 76). Its strictly modular facade reflected the new condition of Europe, which “having touched the Byzantine-Muslim East, developed the intellectual outlook and breaking away from barbarous riot kept a balance” (15, p. 224 – 225).

The Temur’s architecture enlarged and maximum stretched the portals, minarets and domes upwards. Sometimes, the brick could not bear such pressure. Italy, naturally, observed a new scale of the epoch and gave own powerful interpretation of skyward drum and dome, using the stone, this firm and durable construction material. In 1506 – 1626, in Rome, was designed and built the sacred building of Catholicism – Cathedral of St. Peter. In 1536 – 1546, designing was committed to architect Antonio da Sangallo, who studied experience of Philippe Brunelleschi. We know the drawing of “the dome erected in Florence without reinforcement”. This bricklaying is “spinapesce”. Spiral rows played a role of reinforcement. Sangallo designed St. Peter’s dome ribbed, like in Florence, on a high drum from two circles of column arcades. After Sangallo, the work at the cathedral was finished by great Michelangelo, who also followed the ideas of Brunelleschi. So, the oriental architectural influence started by Turks and Mongols had reached its culmination in the epoch of Temur and indirectly continued even at the stage of developed Renaissance.

In pure classic architecture, the expressive orders are not attached onto a structure as a decor, but are integrated with it. Italian-Turkic contacts gave new solutions of such integration. Those joints and fixtures, which Renaissance discovered in architecture of Turks and called “herringbone”, “fish backbone”, “veins”, “reinforcement” and “carpet”, promoted discovery of the essence of the classic order: connection, not external, but internal, as long before Renaissance Europe had begun to adopt Turkic constructability and modularity. For this reason, geometrically rational architecture of Renaissance could be compared with close-bodied dress, which from 1300 was cut in French Burgundy thanks to buttons, borrowed at this time from the eastern nomadic peoples.

Author: Shukur Askarov

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