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Ottoman Empire: Art & Architecture

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  • 0:04 The Ottoman Empire
  • 1:27 Ottoman Empire Art
  • 3:28 Ottoman Empire Architecture
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever seen a colorful woven Turkish rug or a ceramic tile with beautiful designs of cursive writing? They might have been from the Ottoman Empire. In this lesson, explore the art and architecture of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire

Turkish carpets, decorative calligraphy, painted ceramics and elaborate mosque architecture are some of the art that came from the Ottoman Empire, an empire once located in the Middle East and centered in present-day Turkey. The capital city was Istanbul, also known as Constantinople. The Ottoman sultans became dominant in the early 1500s and eventually took over areas once ruled by the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia (the parts of Turkey closer to Asia) and the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire was very diverse. At its height, it covered territory from the Mediterranean Sea to China, and its rule lasted over seven hundred years.

History and Background of the Ottoman Empire

Unlike the Christian leaders of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire rulers were of Islamic faith. Islam developed in the 7th century and spread through the Middle East and parts of Asia. The Islamic religion forbids images of humans or animals in most art, so it impacted the imagery found in Ottoman art.

Spectacular art and architecture were created during the reign of a sultan known as Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), who ruled the Ottoman Empire at its height. Süleyman enthusiastically supported the arts, and this period was also known as the Golden Age of the Arts. The Ottoman Empire's administrative seat was the Topkapi Palace, and it included a network of imperial artists and craftspeople that came from throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Ottoman Empire Art

The palace had an imperial painting school known as the nakkashane that focused on religious and secular, or non-religious, manuscripts. From it came three styles of painting: traditional used floral elements with intertwined vines and blossoms; the saz style was more fanciful and filled imaginary scenes with Chinese-influenced dragons and other creatures; the naturalistic style included gardens with specific types of plants and flowers like tulips and honeysuckles that came from Islamic and Chinese sources.

Other Ottoman art included calligraphy, which was the art of writing with a focus on the beauty of the figures. In the Islamic world, calligraphy was ornamental but also symbolic because it represented the word of God. It took extensive training and practice to master, and artists used it in many ways, including as decorations on the walls of mosques. Unique to the calligraphy of the Ottoman Empire was a figure called the tughra, which was a calligraphic seal that served as the signature of the Ottoman sultan. In this example, a tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent, you can see the fabulous merger of writing and decoration.

Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent, ca. 1555-1560
tughra of Suleyman

The Ottoman Empire was also known for a style of pottery called Iznik ware, named for the town in which it was created. The earthenware forms were glazed, fired or baked under high heat, and then painted. Early Iznik wares featured mostly blues and greens, but artists later developed a unique deep bright red paint. Artists hand-painted some designs and used intricate stencils for others.

Example of an Iznik earthenware dish, second half of the 16th century
Iznik ware

Weavers in the Ottoman Empire produced beautiful woven carpets and rugs, some of pile, or knots tied to a backing that are then looped or tufted to create a plush carpet, and others of a flat weaving known as kilim. Carpets were usually wool and often featured symmetrical geometric patterns. Others also included elements like vases, floral patterns, trees and animals. During the Ottoman Empire, carpet-weaving became an important industry, with many produced being exported to Europe and the Far East.

Example of a Turkish rug from the Ottoman Empire period
turkish rug

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