Olive is drawing “the darling faces of boys” when he hears Black’s knock at the door. Olive notes that when Black was away, Black had been jealous of the miniaturists in Istanbul. Black mentions that Master Osman discussed the connection between painting and blindness and Olive reflects that painting brings light to a world of darkness, reminding people of Allah’s command to “See!” He argues that all artists seek the void of blackness that Allah originally saw. He will explain what this means in three stories.
Olive’s understanding of miniaturists’ desire for blindness evokes a purity and religious righteousness which forms a contrast to the idea that miniaturists seek personal glory or monetary reward through their work. According to Olive, the goal of the miniaturist is to experience a hint of what Allah experiences, which could be interpreted as either arrogant or virtuous.
The first story concerns a master called Sheikh Ali Tabrizi who illustrated “a magnificent version” of Shirin and Hüsrev. Jihan Shah, ruler of the Blacksheep nation, was archenemies with Tall Hasan, ruler of the Whitesheep. The Shah became irrationally paranoid that Sheikh Ali would make an even better version of Shirin and Hüsrev for Tall Hasan, and ordered Sheikh Ali to be killed. However, a kind woman in his harem persuaded him to only blind Sheikh Ali instead. Sheikh Ali heard rumors about this plan, but still did not deliberately sabotage his work on the manuscript, as others would have. As expected, when Sheikh Ali finished the manuscript, he was blinded on Jihan Shah’s orders. Sheikh Ali immediately went to Tall Hasan and explained that although he was now blind, he remembered the manuscript in complete detail, and would in fact be able to produce a better version as his blindness led him closer to the vision of Allah. Sheikh Ali did indeed produce a better version, and this superior manuscript was credited with giving the Whitesheep a subsequent victory in battle over the Blacksheep.
It might seem that blindness would be considered a fate like death (or even worse than death) by miniaturists whose entire lives revolve around images and vision. However, this story contradicts this idea, suggesting that the truest miniaturists do not fear blindness, as their own vision is less important than their ability to create images that correspond to the “vision” of Allah. Indeed, the story explores what it means to speak of God as having a vision, considering that God’s perspective on the world must inherently be much different from the perspective of humanity. The story suggests that God’s vision is akin to blindness, not because God does not have the ability to see, but rather because God’s mode of seeing is more similar to the human faculty of memory than the faculty of sight.
The second story is set just after the death of Tamerlane, Ruler of the World, whose descendants fiercely fought each other. When Tamerlane’s great- grandson Abdüllatif conquered Heart, he immediately asked his miniaturists and calligraphers to make a book in honor of his father Ulug Bey. However, they rushed the job and the book’s pages came to be all out of order. The most senior master was charged with putting them back in the right order, but it was soon revealed that he was blind. He asked for an intelligent boy younger than seven who hadn’t yet learned to read and write to describe the pages aloud to him, and in this way was able to successfully put the book back together. The master explained that Allah designed the world the way a seven-year-old would want to see it, and that painting is a way of “seeking out Allah’s memories” in order to see the world as He sees it.
This story further explores the idea of blindness by suggesting that blindness is akin to a form of innocence. The blind master could have asked any of the miniaturists to describe the pages of the book to him, and one would assume that they would have been able to do a more sophisticated and accurate job. However, the story suggests that the miniaturists’ craft—as well as the experience of adulthood—in fact draws them away from the ability to see the world as Allah designed it. The naïve, “blind” innocence of a child is necessary to access God’s vision of the world.
The final story is set 250 years ago, when many miniaturists would stare at the horizon in order to ward off blindness, while others believed that the sun caused blindness and thus would work in a dark corner lit by candlelight. However, one miniaturist called Seyyit Mirek believed that blindness was a gift from Allah given to the most dedicated miniaturists. Mirek argued that all miniaturists rely on memory when drawing, and that drawing from life or from other images is in fact only practice for the final achievement of being able to draw entirely from memory. When Mirek turned 70, the Sultan allowed him to look at all the old manuscripts in the royal library as a reward for his lifetime of work; after looking at them for three days, Mirek went blind, and never spoke or painted again.
The stories told by Butterfly and Stork mainly feature characters who make foolish and immoral decisions, and thus the stories serve as warnings against bad behavior. In contrast, Olive’s stories feature righteous, dedicated, and pure-hearted characters who understand the true path of a miniaturist and conduct their lives accordingly. The story of Seyyit Mirek confirms the idea that the best miniaturists must sacrifice the possibility of leaving normal lives in dedication to their work, as shown by the fact that after going blind, Mirek never paints or speaks again.
Having finished his stories, Olive comments that “blindness is a realm of bliss from which the Devil and guilt are barred.” Black notes that some of the miniaturists in Tabriz take this reverential attitude toward blindness and sometimes even pretend to go blind and practice looking at things in the darkness in order to experience the world as a blind person does. There is another knock at the door, and a handsome young apprentice informs them that Elegant’s body has been found and the funeral will be held that day.
Like the characters in his stories, Olive seems to be more virtuous than Butterfly and Stork. He doesn’t secretly admit contradictory thoughts and he seems to genuinely hold the belief that blindness is a gift that brings miniaturists closer to God. The news about Elegant, meanwhile, brings a sinister note back into the narrative.