Osman Hamdi Bey’s world of art


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Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 – 1910) is recognized as the leading artist of the late-Ottoman period.

He was a statesman; a great painter and a true art expert with particular interest in archeology… who managed to put forth legislation aimed at regulating archeology and prevent the antiquities from being smuggled abroad! He is considered the first Turkish museum curator. He is considered to be the founder of Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi).

Yet, in his time, it was his unique access to the ancient past as the head of Istanbul’s archaeology museum that drew the interest of his Western contemporaries…

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The Musician Girl, 1880

Hamdi Bey founded the Archeological Museum of Istanbul and became its director in 1881. His style, energy, hard work and enthusiasm established the great reputation of the museum with the impressive collection of the antiquities, which included the famous Greek sarcophagi from Sidon. Together with Theodore Reinach, he published “Une Nécropole royale à Sidon”in 1892.

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Kur’an Tilaveti

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During the years of education, upon quitting the studies of law in Paris, he pursued his interest in artistic painting studying from the famous French orientalist painters Boulanger and Gérôme.

His works were presented at eh Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. Upon his return to Istanbul with his wife Marie, among numerous assignments, he became the Director of the Imperial museum (Müze-i Hümayun).

Screen shot 2015-07-04 at 04.11.09 The Scholar, 1878

Screen shot 2015-07-04 at 01.10.10Throughout his professional career as museum and academy director, Osman Hamdi continued to paint in the style of his teachers, Gérôme and Boulanger. He portrayed his own culture and propounded his own cultural perceptions. His works, which often reflect the Ottoman tradition and culture, manifest a meticulous and realistic approach to all the elements featured in a scene, ranging from daily life to architecture and from objects to ornamentation. Hamdi Bey is an artist who not only incorporates the use of figures, but also introduces an intellectual dimension to Turkish painting.

The Tortoise Trainer (Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi)

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His 1906 painting, The Tortoise Trainer (Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi), broke a record in Turkey by being sold for the amount of 3.5 million USD in December 2004. The painting expresses a sarcastic innuendo on the painter’s own view of his style of work compared to those of his collaborators and apprentices, and is also a reference to the historical fact of tortoises having been employed for illuminative and decorative purposes, by placing candles on the shell, in evening outings during the Tulip Era in the early 18th century. The painting was acquired by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation and is currently on display at the wonderful Pera Museum in Istanbul, which was established by this foundation. Hamdi Bey, who often used his own photographs as models in his figurative compositions, once again repeats the same technique in this painting and depicts himself in the appearance of a dervish. The architectural décor suggests that the scene takes place in one of the upper-story chambers of Bursa’s Yeşil Camii (Green Mosque). Dressed as a dervish and slightly bent over, a man is examining in a contemplative fashion, the tortoises roaming on the floor. He sports an araqiyya, a flattish skullcap commonly worn by dervishes, with a destar, or sash wrapped around it. He wears a belted, long red robe the borders of which are embroidered; his feet are clad in çedik, or slippers for indoor wear, made of yellow sahtiyan, Moroccan (goatskin) leather. He holds a ney in one of the hands he has clasped behind; a nakkare, or a small kettledrum hangs down from his back. While all these details do not necessarily signify allegiance to a particular sect, they are nonetheless elements derived from the attire of a dervish. The dervish is to train these thick-shelled, laggardly tortoises not by using force, but rather by playing the ney and nakkare, namely through art!

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The Kur’an Scholar, 1902

He was a successful representative of Turkish painting with his figured compositions. He gave importance to details while reflecting the colorful scenes of Ottoman life…



As a painter, he became famous while he was alive. He worked on compositions with figures and portraits, and he was the first Turkish artist who painted figures.

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Naile Hanım, 1910

In his paintings, there are many architectural and decorative details. He frequently appears as the main character; he used photos taken of him in different outfits and poses for his drawings…

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At the Mosque Door, 1891


Cami Önü

Links and References:

Osman Hamdi Bey – http://www.osmanhamdibey.gov.tr

Pera Museum Istanbul – http://www.peramuzesi.org.tr

Istanbul Archeological Museums – http://www.istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr

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This entry was posted in Architecture & Design, Art: Ars altera pars, Design, History of art, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Osman Hamdi Bey’s world of art

  1. I had never heard of him before this is a very interesting article.

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