While European eclecticism is examined as a critical and experimental moment in western art history, little research has been conducted to provide an intellectual depth of field to the historicist pursuits of late Ottoman architects as they maneuvered through the nineteenth century’s vast inventory of available styles and embarked on a revivalist/Orientalist program they identified as the ‘Ottoman Renaissance.’ Ahmet A. Ersoy’s book examines the complex historicist discourse underlying this belated ‘renaissance’ through a close reading of a text conceived as the movement’s canonizing manifesto: the Usul-i Mi‘mari-i ‘Osmani [The Fundamentals of Ottoman Architecture] (Istanbul, 1873). In its translocal, cross-disciplinary scope, Ersoy’s work explores the creative ways in which the Ottoman authors straddled the art-historical mainstream and their new, self-orientalizing aesthetics of locality. The study reveals how Orientalism was embraced by its very objects, the self-styled ‘Orientals’ of the modern world, as a marker of authenticity, and a strategically located aesthetic tool to project universally recognizable images of cultural difference. Rejecting the lesser, subsidiary status ascribed to non-western Orientalisms, Ersoy’s work contributes to recent, post-Saidian directions in the study of cultural representation that resituate the field of Orientalism beyond its polaristic core, recognizing its cross-cultural potential as a polyvalent discourse.
Contents: Introduction: Back to the roots: reform and revivalism in the late Ottoman Empire; Ottoman things: empire and exoticism at the Vienna world exhibition; Cosmopolitan commitments: artistic networks and the invention of authenticity; Recanonizing tradition: the ‘fundamentals’ of Ottoman architecture; Tanzimat sensibilities and the rise of the ‘Ottoman Renaissance’; Epilogue; Notes; Select bibliography; Index.
About the Author: Ahmet A. Ersoy is Associate Professor at the History Department at Bogaziçi University, Istanbul. He is the co-author, with Vangelis Kechriotis and Maciej Gorny, of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeastern Europe (1775-1945): Texts and Commentaries, Vol. III / I (2010).
Reviews: ‘Critical historiography at its best … This refreshing account of the art, architecture and culture of Tanzimat takes issue with traditional frameworks of analysis and thrives on attention to nuance, contingency, ambivalence, syncretism and cultural reciprocity in explaining late Ottoman Empire’s engagement with Europe … A timely contribution to Ottoman/Turkish studies as well as to broader theoretical debates on orientalism, historicism, revivalism, authenticity, cultural difference and identity formation in the modern world… Above all, a much-needed cosmopolitan perspective to counteract the nationist neo-orientalism of political Islam in Turkey today.’
Sibel Bozdogan, Harvard University, USA