Ottoman Victoriana: Nineteenth-Century Sultans and the Making of a Palace, 1795-1909
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CitationTurker, Deniz. 2016. Ottoman Victoriana: Nineteenth-Century Sultans and the Making of a Palace, 1795-1909. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation is a historical reconstruction of the last Ottoman palace in Istanbul known as Yıldız. Using a diverse and largely untouched collection of archival sources (including maps, architectural drawings, pattern-books, newspapers, photographs, and countless expense records), the five subsequent chapters chronologically examine the building and growth of the now fragmented site, situating it in the international circulation of ideas and forms that characterized the accelerated and porous world of the nineteenth century. This understudied palace may belong, nominally, to the rarefied realm of the Ottoman elite; the history of the site, however, is profoundly connected to Istanbul’s urban history and to changing conceptions of empire, absolutism, diplomacy, reform, and the public. The dissertation explores these connections, framing the palace and its grounds not only as a hermetic expression of imperial identity, but also as a product of an expanding consumer culture.
The first chapter tackles the site’s static historiography that has overlooked its extremely dynamic architectural evolution. The literature overview contextualizes the reasons for such scholarly lacuna: Sultan Abdülhamid II’s contested presence in nationalistic narratives factor into the discussion. Yıldız’s neglect is part of an endemic dispossession in scholarship of Ottoman art and architectural output from the eighteenth century onwards, because its forms are believed to be foreign and threatening to local craft traditions. The chapter argues instead that Yıldız’s patrons and artists approached their commissions with historical rigor and with an eye for artisanship and the vernacular.
The second chapter follows Yıldız’s eighteenth-and nineteenth-century histories through the eyes of the Ottoman court chroniclers. Their meticulous day-to-day descriptions of the lives of sultans and how they used their capital’s royal grounds show us that for a long time before Yıldız became Abdülhamid II’s royal residence, it belonged to the sultans’ powerful mothers and wives. The collective efforts of these entrepreneurial women converted Yıldız from a minor imperial retreat to an income-generating estate. The site started its life, then, as an exemplary gendered space that uproots conventional notions of the Oriental harem.
The third chapter traces the grand landscaping project undertaken at Yıldız by Christian Sester, the court’s Bavarian head-gardener. Not only does this chapter outline the site’s dramatic physical transformations under Sester’s tutelage from the 1830s to the 1860s, but it also tracks his establishment of a cosmopolitan gardeners’ corps. The diverse members of this corps, the chapter shows, deeply impacted the urban landscapes and marketplaces of Istanbul well into the 1910s.
The fourth chapter examines Yıldız’s light, pavilion-like structures in the context of the century’s Alpine appeal as well as the world expositions that commodified the use of these small-scale typologies. While exploring the functions of these structures in the courtly context, the chapter also highlights the mass-appeal of catalogue-order chalets among the Ottoman bureaucrat classes and the competition these buildings engendered in Istanbul’s domestic spaces. This chapter also speaks more broadly about the nature of architectural styles, designs and taste in the Ottoman world of the late-nineteenth century.
Yıldız’s history cannot be written without photograph albums, central to Abdülhamid II and his reign. The fifth and final chapter does precisely that by focusing on the previously unknown, last and most intimate photograph album that the sultan commissioned of the site. The album exhibits Yıldız in its most up-to-date incarnation and in the way that Abdülhamid II wanted it to be seen: grounds that required active engagement, that were simultaneously intimate and sublime, and that incorporated both untouched and cultivated landscapes. The chapter draws formal comparisons with earlier, better-known photograph albums of the palace that were prepared for an international audience. Unlike any other, this album gets us closest to Abdülhamid’s own biography of imperial spaces, the precedents that he inhabited during his princely years. These sites, in turn, influenced his architectural patronage in Yıldız. Therefore, the album is conceptualized here as a revealing visual biography of the most elusive of sultans and his similarly elusive palace.
Lastly, I take victoriana in the title to imply a global designation, a trigger that to my mind best describes the push and pull of tradition at the onset of modernity. At no other site than Yıldız is this tension played out so clearly in the Ottoman lands. I mean to draw thematic connection between Victorian England and the Ottoman Empire at specific moments in which the latter found itself negotiating between local craft and global industry, between its imperial image and its newly emerging social classes, between royalty’s austerity and its requisite international presence, and between tradition and invention.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33840715
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