The snow falls all night, and Black reads Shekure’s letter over and over again. He dreams that he and Shekure are happily in love and that they get married, only to argue once they are together. Black realizes this dream has been inspired by a book he read called The Revival of Religious Science, which details “the ills of marriage.” Black attempts to masturbate to distract himself but he is unable to do so, which he feels is proof he has fallen deeply in love. Eventually, he writes a response to Shekure and takes the letter out with him in the morning. He sends a “little street urchin” to tell Esther to meet him after noon prayers, and then he goes straight to the royal artisans’ workshop, where he witnesses a flurry of activity and recalls the time he spent there as a young apprentice. Black goes into a warm room and sees Master Osman, whom he has not seen in 15 years. Osman is wearing white and, surrounded by the white light of the snow, resembles a spirit from the afterlife. Black introduces himself and explains the story of his life.
The snow falling in Istanbul creates a sense of mystery and otherworldliness, which is underlined in Black’s description of Master Osman. There is a hint of magic surrounding the royal artisans’ workshop and particularly Master Osman, whose authority and prestige—as well as his age—turn him into a somewhat larger-than-life figure. Furthermore, Black’s statement that Osman resembles a spirit from the afterlife conveys the idea that there is something supernatural about the practice of manuscript illumination. This helps explain why the illuminators’ work is so important, and also why it is treated as a threat by those who are very religious.
Black can see in Master Osman’s half-blind eyes that he hates Enishte and is suspicious of Black. Osman asks what the illuminators depict in the places Black has visited, and Black notices the apprentices listening intently to his answer. He tells Master Osman the story of Shah Tahmasp, and how the legendary masters of Kazvin and Herat were left suddenly without work, and were thus forced to scatter in all different directions. Black comments that many are now wasting their talents producing cheap and rushed books for patrons who do not appreciate them. Master Osman asks how much the pieces are sold for, and Black lists the different prices, noting that many illuminators produce single-leaf works that don’t tell any story at all, but rather depict a single subject such as sex or a battle. Master Osman tells Black that Elegant, one of his most talented miniaturists, has been missing for six days, and that the Sultan has instructed other young masters—Stork, Olive, and Butterfly—to work from home.
Perhaps to gain favor in the eyes of Master Osman, Black speaks in a disdainful way about what he witnessed in Persia, particularly the fact that many illustrators are now selling work which violates the proper standards of manuscript illumination in order to make money. Black does not adhere to strict religious standards about the proper way to paint, but he has inherited Enishte’s disdain for using art as a way to make money. Furthermore, like the tree, Black expresses the view that painted images should not exist on their own (as single-leaf illustrations)—they should always be part of a broader story.
Master Osman asks a painter to give Black the “survey” of their workshop, which was originally a ritual that took place during the Sultan’s visits, when the illuminators would show him their work-in-progress. Black finds the ritual sad now, however, because the master miniaturists are all at home and the Sultan no longer feels as enthusiastic about their work as he once did. However, Black is still pleased to behold the Book of Festivities, which depicts the Sultan overseeing the festivities at the Hippodrome, flanked by ambassadors and dignitaries from all over Europe and Asia. Other parts of the book portray other aspects of Istanbul society, from coppersmiths to magicians to rabbits and birds. One picture depicts a lion, symbolizing Islam, chasing after a pig that represents “the cunning Christian infidel.” Black asks Nuri the miniaturist who painted this last picture, and Nuri replies that the purpose of painting is to encourage respect for God’s creation, and that the identity of the painter is not important. Black wonders why Nuri responds in this cautious, righteous manner.
This passage emphasizes the idea that the culture and practice of miniaturist painting is changing at a remarkable pace. The ritual “survey” of the workshop recalls a time when the work of the royal artisans was entirely in harmony with the wishes of the Sultan and society at large. However, now the Sultan has developed a more ambivalent relationship to art, and many people are condemning art on religious grounds. This religious righteousness has even affected the minds of the artists themselves, as Nuri’s comment demonstrates. Yet it is possible that Nuri makes this statement as a self-protective gesture, a way of asserting that he is virtuous in order to defend himself and his craft from religious zealots.
Black asks who will take over the gilding now Elegant has gone, but Nuri only replies that, God willing, Elegant will return to finish the work. Nuri shows Black other pieces in the workshop, including a plate depicting Shirin and Hüsrev. Black meets a 92-year-old former master who is half blind and who describes meeting the famous Master Bizhad, who was drunk and blind himself at the time. As Black kisses Master Osman’s hand goodbye, he experiences mixed feelings of adoration, respect, pity, and guilt, in part because Osman is Enishte’s arch rival. Black asks Osman “what separates the genuine miniaturist from the ordinary,” and Osman replies that this changes over time, but that he would determine a genuine miniaturist with three questions. First, he would ask about style and signature in order to determine if the miniaturist admired the European individualist style of painting. Then he would ask a question about a time, which Black fails to understand. Finally, he would ask a question about blindness. After this, Black leaves and meets Esther. He gives her the letter and asks her to tell Shekure that he has gone to visit Olive, Butterfly, and Stork.
In this passage, the idea of blindness plays an important role in a number of different ways. When Nuri refuses to ask Black’s question about gilding and instead replies that God willing Elegant will come back, he engages in a kind of willful blindness about what has really happened to Elegant, who at this point is widely presumed to be dead. The story about Master Bizhad suggests that a lifetime of devotion to painting can create both physical blindness and a more metaphorical mental blindness that comes in the form of drunkenness or madness. Finally, Master Osman includes a question about blindness in the three questions he would pose to a miniaturist. However, the questions themselves are too vague and mysterious for Black to understand—in this sense, Black is “blind” to their meaning.