Master Osman admits that he was horrified when he first saw the illustrations of the book, and has now decided to return to them in order to figure out what disturbed him so much. He is angered by the fact that there is no story, and that the illustration exist in isolation. He objects to the style in which the illustrations have been rendered, which he considers to be “devoid of any skill whatsoever.” He is also offended by the subjects of the illustrations, particularly Satan, the dervishes, and the dog. He is “terrified” by the vividness of the color red in the illustrations. Osman claims that he knows which miniaturist completed which picture, but Black says he doubts that, given that they were not produced in the miniaturists’ usual styles.
Master Osman’s objection to the book rests on two distinct yet interrelated issues. His disdain for the use of the realist style makes immediate sense, as this is the result of European influence and a clear violation of Islamic dictates against realist representation. The issue of the illustrations standing on their own, however, is more complex. After all, there is supposed to be a story uniting the pictures eventually, it just hasn’t been written yet. The danger of solitary illustrations seems to rest on the fact that the viewer must determine the pictures’ meanings.
Master Osman answers with a parable about a shah who loved two things: illustrated manuscripts and his beautiful daughter. One day, a miniaturist delivered a version of Shirin and Hüsrev to the shah, and he realized that his daughter was depicted as one of the background characters. The miniaturist attempted to conceal his identity, but the shah located him through examining the way he depicted ears. Osman explains that painters do not pay much attention to ears and thus unconsciously illustrate them in their own distinct style. The Commander’s men enter the room, carrying illustrations they have seized from the miniaturists. Black asks how the story ends, and Osman decides not to tell him that the miniaturist was blinded; instead, he says that the miniaturist married the shah’s daughter. Osman repeats that it is difficult to identify the style of a miniaturist who has taken care to conceal any kind of “stylistic signature”; however, by looking at certain clues it is possible.
The idea of stylistic signature being a hidden clue further draws together the murder mystery plot with the novel’s thematic questions about artistic creation and representation. Just as a murderer attempting to conceal his identity can unwittingly leave clues that will identify him, so too can an artist who wishes to paint without a stylistic signature accidentally leave stylistic clues in his paintings. The act of murder and the act of painting are thus drawn together by the fact that they are both mortal acts imitating the work of God (who is both the creator and extinguisher of life). Unlike God, humans are flawed, and thus leave marks of their flaws on their “work.”
Master Osman and Black look through the book and are able to attribute particular illustrations to Olive, Stork, and Butterfly. In this way, they are able to learn the stylistic attributes of each miniaturist. Osman notes that Olive comes from a long line of Mongol illustrators and that he was never able to persuade Olive to abandon East Asian stylistic influences. Osman once paid him a surprise visit at home and saw that his workspace was messy and disorganized. Osman claims that Olive is both the most “quiet and sensitive” miniaturist and the most “guilty,” “traitorous,” and “devious.” However, Osman does not believe Olive is the murderer because Olive doesn’t “believe in anything.” Black and Osman discuss possible reasons why Olive might have murdered Enishte, but they reach no conclusion.
Master Osman’s method for determining which miniaturist is the murderer does not exactly hold up to conventional methods of criminal identification. Rather than considering objective evidence, Osman focuses on his own impression of Olive. Even when his subjective assessment of Olive’s qualities indicate that Olive does seem to possess the capacity for murder (Osman even thinks of him as being the most “guilty”), Osman still overrides this impression with the rather groundless claim that Olive could not be the murderer.
Next Black and Osman consider Butterfly. Osman admits that he finds it unbelievable that a man could be both as handsome and as talented as Butterfly. He admits that, although he beats all his miniaturists, he still respects them—particularly Butterfly. Butterfly has a strong sense of justice and is eager to please. Black and Osman wonder whether Butterfly’s desperation to become Head Illuminator after Osman’s death could have led him to murder. In fact, Osman already wants Butterfly to succeed him, as he doesn’t trust Olive and he believes that Stork will “unwittingly become a slave to the Venetian style.” Osman tells Black that his special relationship with Butterfly used to make the other miniaturists jealous. Black mentions that there are rumors that Butterfly is a follower of the Hoja of Erzurum. Osman comments that the tradition of miniaturist painting is doomed to be forgotten in favor of the European style.
Butterfly is clearly Master Osman’s favorite miniaturist, but, once again, Osman seems to be taking a rather biased and subjective view. He is seduced by Butterfly’s extraordinary beauty, which is important in terms of the broader themes of appearance, beauty, and idolatry. Like the realist illustrations in Enishte’s book, Butterfly’s appearance leads Master Osman to adore and even worship him. Furthermore, Butterfly’s tendency for sycophantic behavior plays into Master Osman’s vanity, and his faithfulness to the existing miniaturist tradition confirms why he is Osman’s favorite. Yet do these facts rule him out as the murderer?
Black and Osman move on to Stork, who Osman claims is “ambitious and conceited.” Osman admits that if one of the three miniaturists is indeed the murderer, he hopes it’s Stork. Stork uses the same level of realist detail as the European painters, but unlike the Europeans he doesn’t depict people’s faces as unique and individual. Stork is cynical and mocks everything. Black comments that Stork loved to paint violent and “gruesome” scenes, however Master Osman replies that a painter’s character is not revealed in his subject matter.
Even though Master Osman believes that Stork is the murderer and thus he presumably would want to convince Black of the same thing, he refuses to concede that Stork’s preference for depicting violent scenes is evidence that he committed murder. In this sense, Osman’s beliefs about art are even more important to him than identifying the murderer.