The development of the Ottoman culture took centuries of absorption, adaptation, and modification of the cultures created by the defeated lands and their populations. In the course of its history, the Ottoman Empire was inhabited by Assyrians, Byzantine Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. Each of these nations had a particular autonomy under the rule of the Ottoman government. As a result, the Ottoman culture was enriched by its traditions and developed its unique, distinctive features. Ottoman architecture, miniatures, carpets, and other works of art are famous throughout the world. Having emerged as a reflection of the Ottoman traditions, Ottoman art has impacted the culture of the Empire as well. Moreover, the influence of Ottoman traditions can be still observed in the cultural and social life of modern Turkey. Therefore, it is interesting to analyze the examples of Ottoman art and the effects produced by this unique culture.
The remarkable features of the Ottoman miniatures have developed due to the impacts of the ancient cultures. This distinctive style combines elements from the Middle East, the Far East, North Africa, Mesopotamia, Rome and Ancient Greece (Celebi, 2014). According to Celebi (2014), miniature art assimilated into Ottoman culture during the pre-Islamic period in Turks. The discovered miniatures that date back to the Uigur civilization in the 8th and 9th centuries (see Figures 1 and 2) portray a Uigur Khan accepting Manichaeism belief (Celebi, 2014). These miniatures have characteristic features similar to those that are present in the Ottoman miniatures, namely round faces, big heads, thick eyebrows, and short necks.
While the Islamic tradition presupposed the limited use of figural images in painting, the things have changed after the conquest of Istanbul. Having invited many Italian artists, Mehmet II became the first Sultan, who permitted the painting of his portrait (Celebi, 2014). According to Celebi (2014), this work of art (see Figure 3) is extremely significant since it reflects and synthesizes Turko-Mongol and Italian styles. The portrait displays that its author Pavli Sinan Bey has made an attempt to add volume by using shades. This effect is especially noticeable on the hands, face, and drapes on clothing. In spite of the unrealistic human proportions, the facial features are rather expressive. In general, this painting is an example of naturalism experimentation in the traditional pattern.
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The motifs of the Ottoman miniatures focus primarily on life in the palace. Since the majority of the Ottoman illuminated manuscripts were created by order of the Sultan, the painters often used the Sultan’s establishments as a leading scene. In addition, they used the themes of military expeditions, conquests, weddings, festivals, religion, zoology, botany, and daily life (Celebi, 2014). The choice of the theme depended on the Sultan’s order and the creativity of the painter.
In the first place, Ottoman architecture is famous for its palaces, mosques, and ornaments. The first Ottoman palace that was built after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 was located in Beyazit. However, this place has soon lost its favor, so the new castle was erected at the junction of the Istanbul waters, the Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus (Topkapi Palace). After the continuous building process, the Palace has turned into a vast system of buildings grouped over the area, including the hermetic Harem complex and sections for chamberlains, stewards, and hundreds of palace staff (Topkapi Palace). The Topkapi or Cannon Gate Pavilion represented a wooden building that stood at the cannon gate in the sea walls. Having been restored by Mahmut II after its destruction during the reign of Abdulaziz, the former Topkapi Saray is now known under the name of Topkapi Palace (see Figure 4).
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Another prominent example of Ottoman architecture is the Great Mosque in Bursa. Created from 1396 to 1399, this rectangular building has the proportions of 68 m by 56 m (Bursa). Each of the 12 square piers used for the division of the interior into 12 identical components is crowned by a dome (see Figure 5). There is a pool in the middle, the floor is decorated with white marble slabs, and there is no porch. The highest domes are placed in the central row on the north-south axis. The Great Mosque is the largest mosque in Bursa and represents one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country.
Carpet weaving is the iconic Turkish art with the early woven elements revealed in Central Asia. Initially, floor rugs were made of woven fabric. The knotted carpets appeared in Islamic states only after the arrival of the Seljuks in the 11th century (Rugs and Carpets). The Seljuk rugs were tied in the Turkish-Ghiordes knot and could be distinguished by geometrical and stylized floral motifs in successive rows. In the early 14th century, Turkish rugs ornaments included animal figures. In the 16th century, two main groups of rugs emerged (see Figure 6). The first group included the Usak rugs with the leading motif of a medallion. The second type was the Ottoman court rugs with naturalistic motifs (Rugs and Carpets). The Ottoman court rugs used the Iranian Senna knot to depict the bunches of Turkish flowers, such as the hyacinth, tulip, rose, carnation, and the blooming branches. These carpets served as the decorations of the palaces of European dynasties for many years.
The Interrelation between Ottoman Culture and Art
The works of the Ottoman art display the diversity of the Ottoman Empire under the influence of neighboring traditions together with the nomadic and Central Asian origins. The foreign artistic forms were assimilated through conquest, direct involvement of artisans, or the migration of nations (Ottoman Art). The invited artists brought their original folk traditions and tried to correspond to the principles of trade and commerce, as well as the standards defined by the court. The Ottoman court’s arts created the trends for nearly all aspects of the Ottoman culture. For many years, many artisans moved toward Istanbul to provide the palace with different types of art objects. In 1575, 898 artisans worked in the palace, including painters, calligraphers, carpet weavers, manuscript illuminators, and potters (Ottoman Art). The majority of the foreign artists who worked at the Ottoman court originally came from the distant conquered lands, so they brought their distinctive esthetic styles and materials into the creation of the unique Ottoman metalwork, ceramics, textiles, and carpets. In the palace harem, the Ottoman women used to wear beautiful and complex clothes with elegant accessories in accordance with their rank and the appointed traditions of the court. Thus, the artistic traditions of the Ottoman Empire were determined by the customs of the nation and the rules defined by the court. On the other hand, the engagement of foreign artists enriched the Ottoman culture and contributed to the development of its unique features.
The Effects of Ottoman Culture on Modern Turkey
The modern Turkish society widely uses the remains of the Ottoman cultural heritage in everyday life and popular culture products. The information about the lives of sultans, their families, and harems is widely used by many native and foreign authors as a material for literature bestsellers. Another field that extensively explores the Ottoman Empire’s theme is movie-television. The traces of the Ottoman culture can also be found in modern Turkish music since some of the background music motifs are composed of traditional Turkish musical instruments (Karabacak & Sezgin, 2013). The attention of female consumers is often captured by the textile and cosmetics products designed with Harem and the Ottoman Hammam elements. At present, the clothes, jewelry, and accessories with the Ottoman motifs are widely released to the market under the name of different brands. Many modern buildings, houses, cafes, and restaurants that use the Ottoman heritage features have emerged in city structure. Therefore, the cultural traditions of the Ottoman Empire are reflected in contemporary Turkish culture and everyday life.
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In the course of its history, the Ottoman Empire was inhabited by different nations, each of which was granted a particular autonomy under the rule of the Ottoman government. This cultural interaction resulted in the development of the unique Ottoman culture famous for its distinctive miniatures, architecture, carpets, clothes, jewelry, and accessories. Under the influence of Ottoman cultural traditions, Ottoman art has absorbed foreign trends and become a unique cultural phenomenon. The traces of it still attract worldwide interest and can be observed in modern-day Turkey.