Black suspects that Enishte knows about the letters he has exchanged with Shekure. Enishte sits him down and begins to tell him about a visit to Venice during which he saw portraits painted in the new realist style. Enishte explains that everyone in Venice wanted their portrait painted as a symbol of their wealth and power, and also as a marker of immortality. Black observes that Enishte seems both bitter and enraptured as he speaks. Enishte adds that real people pay to be painted into religious paintings and are so desperate to be included that they will consent to be portrayed as a servant or a prostitute. Black thinks he hears a sound in the house, and Enishte concludes that it seems “as if the Venetian paintings were made to frighten us.” Yet it is clear that Enishte understands the appeal of the portraits, and he realizes that the desire to be painted in this style will prove to be the end of the Islamic artistic tradition.
Enishte’s ambivalence about the Venetian paintings conveys their mysterious power. Enishte knows that it is sinful not only to have one’s portrait painted in such a manner, but also to have such a strong desire to be painted this way—a desire that becomes a kind of arrogance and greed for immortality. At the same time, Enishte cannot deny the impact the portraits have, and he correctly senses that this style of painting will have a revolutionary impact on the artistic traditions of both the East and West. Rather than being a sideline issue, art is in fact a central and definitive force within a given culture.
When Enishte and the Sultan decided to create the book, the Sultan insisted that the story remain an important part of the manuscript; otherwise the pictures within would become false idols. As he discussed the placement of the pictures with the Sultan, Enishte became nervous about the prospect of centering a subject in a sacrilegious way. The Sultan insisted that the portrait of himself would never be put on display, lest it end up being worshipped. However, Enishte whispers that, in fact, this is exactly what the Sultan wanted. The book would come to represent the glory of the Ottoman empire on the thousandth anniversary of the Hegira. The Sultan ordered Enishte to begin immediately.
This passage makes clear that the Sultan is happy to pick and choose between the mandates that ensure Islamic art coheres with religious doctrine. He insists that there must be a story and that his portrait not be placed on a wall, yet wishes to be portrayed in a realist style, a clear violation of Islamic law. Enishte is thus caught between a desire to please the Sultan (who is both a political and religious leader), a desire to try out the European painting style himself, and a fear of angering God.