The origins of the word 'Ebru' is as mysterious as the art form itself, and there are many possible answers, each with a unique identity. One version makes claim that Ebru comes from the Arabic 'ab-ru', meaning 'water for the face.' Another trace back to the Chagatai word 'ebre' meaning 'undulating'. The most seemingly plausible explanation comes from 15th century Persian «ebri», which from Farsi means “cloud.”
Ebru is one of the oldest forms of Turkic art, but exactly where or when it started remains unknown. Ebru is an art from the realms of history, presenting us with a complex story hidden in mystery. Those who have traced the history claim Ebru was born in Turkistan in Central Asia. Turkistan was a cultural cross road with influences from as far east as China and India, and there is great speculation that Ebru has further roots to these regions. Ebru became known as Turkish Paper in Europe from the 1600s. The unique art of Ebru was also practical, as it was first used as the background to important official state papers, treaties and important documents as a means to prevent the alteration of the document, much like the complex designs of currency today.
Photo: an edition of Horace's poems manually bound in France around 1735 with handcrafted marbled paper
As Ebru traveled its journey through Europe, each country and individual adapted and adjusted their techniques, and changed the materials and recipes according to their local materials. Very little information on these practices was ever recorded, and was instead passed from artist to apprentice in secrecy. Even today, many practitioners are reticent to share their processes, materials or secret techniques. There is great reason as to why so many centuries of this craft are evident only in the traces they have left on contemporary efforts.
In the mid-1800s, there was a general revival. Ebru works began to be used by bookbinders, replacing prints, paste papers, Dutch gilt, and drip marbled papers. It was during this time that several comprehensive books on the marbling process were printed in English that documented what history was known and techniques of Ebru.
As Ebru traveled through Spain and Italy, it began to develop into its present form. The form took root in Italy, and especially in Venice and Florence. To this day, the Venetians and the Florentines are famous the world over for their marbling. From the warmer climates, Ebru spread into France, Holland and England and the migration continues to this day.
The basic technique involves paints that are made to float on the surface of water where they are manipulated into designs and then transferred to a chosen surface. The challenge of Ebru art is to learn control, timing and the behavior of the paint. In the moment the paint meets the surface of the water, the artist is immediately and entirely engaged with the process. The art can be described as a dance as the artist coaxes, pulls, and manipulates the paints on the surface of the water.
Contemporary artists and designers have rediscovered this versatile design motif, and Ebru works can now be seen in many new environments from lamp shades to wine labels.
No matter the level or the intent of the artist, Ebru is a deeply personal journey involving the artist, the materials, movement, and time. Ebru is more than just an art form. It is the collected knowledge, history and mysticism of a deep artistic and cultural journey.
As evidence of its incredible cultural importance, Ebru is officially listed by UNESCO in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
More old Ebru books you can find here