War, trade and diplomacy drove Ottoman impact on Europe
During this 250-year period, Ottoman influence in Europe was enormous, especially where objects were concerned. The book ‘Impressions of Ottoman Culture in Europe: 1453–1699,’ allows us a glimpse at the wealth of Ottoman items captured by Western powers.Most modern Western historians of the Ottoman Empire have focused on the later centuries when Western influence began to have a significant impact on the imperial state, that is, from the 18th century onwards. These historians were limited from studying earlier periods, at least in part, by not knowing the Ottoman language. Western archives after all were rich in materials and learning a Western language was not overly difficult. The problems encountered in obtaining permission to engage in research in Turkey were also quite daunting (at least until quite recently removed). Modern Turks weren’t interested in the Ottomans, so why should foreigners be? As a result, modern Western historians busied themselves by showing the impact of the West on the Ottomans and, consciously or unconsciously, displayed an arrogant belief in Western superiority.
The Ottoman defeat at the gates of Vienna (1683) and the later rout at Petrovaradin (1716) proved that the Ottomans were no longer to be feared the way they once were. This lack of fear resulted in a lack of respect and we all know that the Ottoman Empire was considered the “sick man of Europe” throughout the 19th century.
Ottoman influences in Europe
But between the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and the beginning of the 18th century, when the Ottoman Empire expanded and reached its zenith, Western Europe alternated between awe, fear and respect. During this 250-year period, Ottoman influence throughout Europe was enormous, especially where objects were concerned, as one can tell by examining inventory lists. Now, a book has been published which allows us a glimpse at the wealth of Ottoman items captured by Western powers in war, purchased outright, or received as gifts during that 250-year period and later. Impressions of Ottoman Culture in Europe: 1453–1699, by Nurhan Atasoy and Lale Uluç, has been six years in the making and has just appeared.
In the preface, the two authors describe their book as follows: “This book is about the response of pre-modern Europe to the flow of Ottoman material culture into its midst, through shared borders in the aftermath of the Ottoman expansion and as a result of increased political, diplomatic and trade relations.” Although they write that their primary areas covered Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, which were vassal states but not conquered territories, they have also gone much further afield in providing material from museums, private collections and archives in a number of Western European countries.
Atasoy and Uluç are particularly interested in the cultural transfers and translations of what were identifiable forms and symbols into new meanings in their European life. They also express the hope that “this study will serve to highlight some of the less easily accessible Ottoman traces that are often hidden in the storerooms of museums, alongside the more familiar.” From the start, the pair found textiles, embroideries, carpets, ceramics, musical instruments, bindings, lacquer work, jewelry, helmets, armguards, shields and military and daily apparel that were Ottoman, or at least showed some continuity with Ottoman artifacts. In the end they found so many examples that it was with regret they could only use a small proportion of them in their book.
Never before published photos
Although Atasoy and Uluç complain about the small number of items they write about, the book is still 441 pages long and contains 400 pictures. It also provides a list of illustrations, a lengthy bibliography and an index. The book starts with an article, “The Turkish impact on the development of modern Europe” by Professor Halil Inalcık, which provides the historical context for the book. Atasoy says that many of the photos in the book have never been published before.
One of the many examples that are cited in Impressions is to be found in the Black Church, a Lutheran church in the Transylvanian town of Brasso (Brasov): “The inflow of rugs into Hungary appears to have accelerated significantly after the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512) and the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) agreed to grant reciprocal free access for merchants during periods of peace. Customs registers for the Transylvanian town of Brasso (Brasov/Kronstadt, today in Romania), record that in the ten months between January and November of 1503, no fewer than 500 carpets were imported … the Black Church still has over 100 (largely 17th century) Ottoman carpets covering its walls and stalls, or ornamenting the parapets of its choir galleries.” Some in Istanbul may remember that the Sabancı Museum hosted an exhibition of these Transylvanian carpets in 2007.
The two authors pay tribute to the support they received from the Turkish Cultural Foundation for travel and the purchase of photographs. The Foundation is a U.S. tax-exempt charitable organization, supported entirely by private donations, with offices in Boston, Istanbul, Sonoma and Washington DC. Established in 2000, its goals include promoting and preserving Turkish culture and heritage worldwide and supporting education, research, documentation and publication in the humanities related to Turkey.