Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Turks/Ottomans and the Pre-Raphaelites

I just finished reading an excellent book that crossed my desk at the library... Ottoman Women: Myth and Reality. Looking through the beautiful illustrations of this book, I was struck by how many of them reminded me of the Pre-Raphaelites, and even William Morris' design patterns. Thus began my (rather un-scientific) investigation about the Pre-Raphaelites and all things Oriental/Ottoman. The fascination in Victorian times with fairy tales also extended to the Arabian Nights stories, and there was a plethora of myth and mystique (much of which was utterly false) surrounding this Turkish Empire. (Note: for this blog, "Oriental" refers to the Middle Eastern/Ottoman Empire regions, while apparently "Orient" was the term for the far east)

The first thing that struck me in the book was how very medieval the 19th century attire of Ottoman women still was. The book contained a photograph of a woman's robe that looked in style to me like it could have been worn by a friend of the model in Waterhouse's Soul of the Rose. I definitely see similarities in these robes.Moving on, another perfunctory search of Art Magick brought up several Ottoman-garbed and Oriental-themed artworks. One of my favorites was Oriental Pastime, by Dicksee, seen at the top. I was unable to find out if Dicksee was an orientalist in the strictest sense of the word, meaning, whether or not he actually travelled in order to paint his art.

However, there is one figure among the Pre-Raphaelites who was most certainly an Orientalist in every sense. William Holman-Hunt even painted a self-portrait of himself in Oriental garb, holding a pallette as if to show that the iconic figure of himself as a painter includes a touch of Middle-Eastern mystique. Holman-Hunt also traveled to the Middle East first in 1848 and again in 1869 and 1875.
William Morris, too, was an active afficionado of the Near-East. He encouraged the V&A Museum to purchase a Persian carpet, saying "to us pattern-designers, Persia has become a holy land." And indeed...a look at the textile patterns show some similarities to William Morris designs.
However, my favorite personal discovery in the book on Ottoman Women was an artist whose works were shown several times, and each time I marvelled at the Pre-Raphaelite feel and mood of the art. I found out these works were created by a Turkish man named Osman Hamdi Bey, an artist of whom I'd never heard...and tracking down detailed information on him online was difficult. He was trained by a French painter of neo-classical works, but I would argue that the repeating theme of female subjects, shown in every-day acts of toilette and relaxed lounging, as well as the vivid use of color are quite reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites. Hamdi painted during the 1860s and beyond, and was integral in bringing Western Art to Turkey (he founded their Academy of Fine arts, encouraging students to apprentice with Western painters). It's quite likely he met and interacted with at least Holman-Hunt, if not other Pre-Raphaelites, and certainly had to be aware of the movement. Hamdi was also a bit of a William Morris...he supported archeological work, and went on several digs (showing a common love of ancient "homes"?) and he was also a bit of a Julia Cameron, experimenting with the new art form of photography.
For further reading...

6 comments:

medievalmuse said...

Wonderful research!

I'd imagine that medieval clothing in Europe (England and France in particular) was greatly influenced by the Crusades and exposure to Middle Eastern textiles/culture. That influence in turn would surface in the PRB's intertwining a medieval theme in their art and lives. The Victorians were so very adept as reintroducing styles and making them even more opulent - like Neo-Gothic.

Aurora said...

Love this article! I'd never really thought about it...but you certainly see the Orientalist influence in the work of my favorite Victorian artists...

Grace said...

Thanks Lisa and Aurora!

Dear me, good point about the Crusades. I was sitting here assuming that Middle Eastern Victorian-era fashion had to have been influenced by European medieval ages, when in fact it was likely the opposite!

I have personally little interest in Asia (China, Japan) aesthetically, but I've long admired all things Arabic/Islamic/Indian/Middle Eastern, so I enjoyed researching this blog a lot!!!

Elif said...

hi... I am elif ak from turkey...your work about the subject is the focus point of my short documentary film...but ın fact ıhave got a real problem...so I would like to have your help...yes ı am preraring afilm about this subject but I have hardly found efew paintings to englarge and discribe my documentary film... are there any paintings about ottoman clothin or ottoman society that's painted by an european paintings...especially paintins about european people who wear ottoman clothings...for instance I have read that a France queen wear tese clothings...like fashion once upon a time ago...if you please can help me on this subject I will be so gratefull to you... here is my e- mail;elea 14@gmail.com...best wishes....

Grace said...

I'll be honest, Elif, this blog basically covers just about all I was able to research on the topic. I would direct you to the forums at www.artmagick.com Perhaps someone there would be able to assist you further?

Anonymous said...

This is Persian Empire, Safavid Empire and not ottoman.