Ottoman Visual Culture and Imperial Identity

Instructor: Esra Akın-Kıvanç

This seminar examines the Ottoman imperial identity that was fashioned through a distinct visual vocabulary formulated by patrons, artists, and architects between the sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Through close reading of visual and written evidence (including primary sources such as imperial histories, artists’ biographies, and art-historical treatises) we explore the relationship between power, ideology, and aesthetics within a specifically Sunni-Ottoman context. Our weekly discussions cross the artificial boundaries among various fields of artistic creativity and intellectual inquiries, integrating analyses of Ottoman visual culture with literary criticism as well as theological and philosophical discourses of the pre-modern era. Among others, we will explore such questions as, “What is the relationship between orthodox-Sunni Ottoman ideologies and the formal, stylistic, and conceptual elements of Ottoman visual culture?” “What was the Ottoman perception of the role of art and architecture in shaping a collective memory?” and, “What was the role of the individual artist in forming an imperial identity?” Particular emphasis is placed on the role of artistic exchanges among the three rival empires—the Ottomans, Safavids, and the Mughals. The material we study ranges from book illustrations, ceramics, and textiles to religious and secular architecture.