Enishte explains that he is Black’s uncle, but that other people also call him “uncle” (which is what “Enishte” means). When Black was young, he and his mother would come to stay for spells at Enishte’s house, seeking refuge from Black’s bad-tempered, alcoholic father. Recently, Black gave Enishte a Mongolian inkpot and insisted it should only be used for the color red. Enishte feels that Black has grown up to be a polite and respectful man. When Black was younger, he and Enishte bonded over a shared love of books, and Enishte taught Black about the different miniaturist traditions. Enishte is glad that Black now realizes it is important not to approach art as a “career” and not use art in order to gain money and power. Black recalls that during his travels in Persia, he met many of the most well-known illuminators and saw that they were all living in poverty. Many were driven to stop making manuscripts and instead create single-leaf illustrations they could sell to European tourists.
Despite not adhering to the same religious rules as the Erzurumis and other conservative Muslims, Enishte nonetheless takes his own kind of puritanical attitude to the practice of art. He insists that Black and other artists not seek power and money through their artistic practice, but the reality of what this conviction means is illustrated by Black’s descriptions of the impoverished masters in Persia. The fact that these masters turn to producing single-leaf illustrations for Europeans highlights a second problem: the fact that in Europe, art and money are intimately intertwined, a fact that Ottoman artists cannot ignore.
Like all young men who visit Enishte’s house, Black fell in love with Shekure, Enishte’s daughter. Because Black refused to “bury” his love for Shekure, he was no longer allowed to visit, and three years after Black left Istanbul Shekure married a soldier and had two sons with him. However, soon after this, the soldier disappeared in battle, and no one has heard from him in four years. Shekure and her sons have thus returned to live with Enishte, who has built a new two-story house. Enishte and Black sit in Enishte’s workshop together, and Enishte tells Black that the Sultan has commissioned him to make a secret book. Enishte has arranged for the most talented painters to each take on one part of the illustration: a dog, a tree, the border design, and horses. These illustrations are intended to display both the external and internal riches of the Sultan’s realm. Enishte also decided to include Death and Satan, “because we fear them,” and has asked his team of illustrators, Stork, Olive, Elegant, and Butterfly, to choose their own subjects as well.
This first introduction of the book does not clarify what about it is so controversial and threatening. In particular, the fact that the book was commissioned by the Sultan makes it difficult to understand why it is dangerous. At the same time, there are other details about the book that hint at its mysterious power. First, the fact that it is a secret is intriguing and somewhat paradoxical. If the book is designed to show off the splendor of the Sultan’s realm, why would he not want people to know about it? Furthermore, the names and tasks of the illuminators commissioned to work on the book have a magical quality. Why do the illuminators have these mythical nicknames, and why must they conceal their true identities?
Enishte admits that he cannot presently tell Black about the meaning of the book’s pictures, because he doesn’t know himself. He tells Black that he used to think that painting could only illustrate text, and that it could not stand on its own. However, two years ago Enishte visited Venice “as the Sultan’s ambassador,” and was stunned to find paintings displayed out of context of any story. One painting in particular shocked him; it was a portrait of a Venetian nobleman and his “stunningly beautiful” daughter. The picture was created in a realist style, and Enishte realized that the only story it was intended to convey was the story of the portrait itself. Enishte could not stop thinking about the picture, and he desired to be portrayed in that way himself, even though he knew such a thing was sinful. He concluded that the Sultan should be depicted instead, along with all the things of his realm. Enishte notes that the Venetians have learned how to depict the individual features of people such that a person would be recognizable in a crowd from their portrait. In this way, being painted in a portrait bestows a kind of immortality on the subject. Black and Enishte sit in silence for a while, before Enishte adds that one of the miniaturists, Elegant, is missing; Enishte fears “they might have done him in.”
This passage heightens the suspense surrounding Enishte’s work, and helps explain why it is being treated as a dangerous threat. The Venetian artwork that so captivated Enishte violates Islamic teachings against idolatry by portraying an ordinary human being as the central subject of a portrait. The realist style is also a transgression, due to the fact that it depicts the subject according to the perception of the human eye rather than the (perceived) vision of Allah. Finally, the portrait also defies Islamic custom by highlighting the individual features of its sitter. To Muslims, over-emphasizing a person’s individuality—particularly in the context of representational art—risks elevating a human being to a status that arguably challenges or insults the glory of Allah. The magical effect the portrait has on Enishte confirms the notion that European art has a dark and dangerous power.