Suzanne Compagnon, M.A. M.A. (Marietta Blau Scholarship Awardee, University of Vienna and Sabancı University)

Clothed figures and representation in Ottoman book painting

Album Arabe 6077, BnF, Paris (Working foto of the author with permission of the French National Library.

The PhD project focuses on two groups of Ottoman paintings from the eighteenth century, which all exhibit a clear interest in the depiction of dress. These are single sheet paintings attributed to Abdülcelil Çelebi Levni (d. 1732) and others linked to Abdullah Buhari (active between 1726 and 1745). The thesis uses codicology to sketch the history of the single sheets as well as the albums which incorporate them. The codicological study of the corpus forms the basis for the discussion of representation in single sheet paintings attributed to Levni and Buhari. The prevalent opinion on these works is that they reflect the  process of “Westernisation” believed to be taking place in the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century. This concept is rarely defined precisely, but when used in connection to these paintings, it can be understood as an interest in European art and European illusionistic representational techniques. Thus, the existing scholarship considers that in this period Ottoman painters were consciously adopting “shading”, “perspective”, and a greater “realism”, all of which are framed as “Western” artistic features. However, it is clear when looking at the paintings that these from art history are applied to different artistic phenomena. In addition to its vagueness, the framework of “Westernisation” gives a disproportionate weight to all things European and fails to discuss the importance of depictions from other parts of the Islamic world for understanding the works attributed to Levni and Buhari. The PhD project offers a comprehensive theoretical discussion of representation in Ottoman book painting as well as the first critical study of clothing as a subject matter in this area.