The Impact of Baroque and Rococo on Turkish Decorative Art
The Ottoman Empire, which went into decline after the death of the Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmet Pasha, experienced a noticeable stagnation in the arts as well as in the political and military spheres. The lack of well-known works and artists from this period shows us this clearly.
During the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, Louis XIV died in France and was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV. Ottoman-French relations were in crisis during the reign of Louis XIV. Ambassadors were sent to France during this period, but they were not respected there and led a life in exile. French ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire were treated the same way. It was decided to send an envoy to draw a line under the unpleasant events between the two states, to send letters of appreciation and gifts to Louis XV, who became king at a young age, and to emphasize that they were on the side of France against Spain, which was France’s enemy. Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi was appointed to head this delegation. In 1720, Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi and his son travelled by sea to France (Paris) with almost 40 followers. Based on his travel notes and experiences, Mehmet Çelebi wrote the book “Travelogue of France”, which was to have a decisive influence on the social and artistic life of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman ambassador saw many paintings during his travels and was amazed at how close to reality they looked. This was because Baroque art made effective use of perspective and the light-shadow effect, which made the works look more real and three-dimensional. Perspective was a technique not often used in the Eastern paintings the ambassador had seen up to that day.
The Ottoman envoy was unable to sign any political or military treaties during this long journey. After a year-long study tour, the delegation left with travel notes, memories, new ideas and gifts from Louis XV to the Sultan.
As a result of this trip, there was a mutual interaction between the two countries. The Western world became familiar with Turkish motifs leading to a burgeoning interest in Turkish culture in Paris. Oriental rooms were constructed in Rococo and Baroque palaces. European nobles wore Turkish clothes and had their paintings made among carpets and fabrics with Turkish motifs. As a result of this interaction, European diplomats, merchants and travelers visited Ottoman lands throughout the 18th century. On the other hand, the Baroque and Rococo styles, which flourished in France, prevailed in all areas of art. The notes from the travelogue written under the influence of the magnificent works of art in this style, the gifts sent by Louis XV decorated in this style, projects for the arrival of the printing press in Istanbul, plans for the Sadabat Pavilion, plans for the gardens of the Palace of Versailles and new works of art (spectacle glasses, binoculars, clocks, large mirrors, small Baroque furniture, carpets with various motifs, fabric and Gobelin carpets) with decorations that did not resemble Turkish art at all brought European art to the Ottoman court.
Turkish artists also became acquainted with the Baroque and Rococo art of the West and were influenced by the notes of the journey and the gift decorations. They gradually began to use them in their works. The Rococo style arrived in the Ottoman Empire almost at the same time as the French Rococo. While Baroque was followed by Rococo art in Europe, Rococo art came to our shores followed by the Baroque style.
After this journey, ambassadors were sent to other European countries and reciprocal embassies were established. The state began to consciously open up to the West. Then, with the promulgation of the Tanzimat Edict, it was decided to officially and completely align with the West and make use of all the things West was good at. A parallel trend can also be observed in the field of art. Western art influenced various Turkish arts such as architecture, wood, plaster, tiles, bindings, books, vases, evani, copper ornaments, papermaking and fashion. Over a long period of two centuries, the effects of the Rococo could be seen in the decoration of manuscripts, architecture and other fields of art.
This period, which immediately followed the Classical period, when the most magnificent and perfect works of Ottoman art were created, and when, under the influence of the West, works of unusual appearance were created, was at first seen only as a European imitation, but over time more works were created, and eventually this genre became well-known and popular. The artists of this period created a new art movement called “Turkish Baroque and Rococo” by adding their own taste and old views to the Western influences.
The Tulip period is a period of transition to westernization and the phase of adapting western shapes and forms to our own. When we look at the important works of art and artists of this period, the design of the Sadabad Palace and the Kağıthane gardens are particularly significant. A similar setting, modelled on the garden of the Palace of Versailles, is a Baroque garden created on the edge of the Golden Horn. Ponds with fountains, open-air viewing pavilions, columns with dragon heads and water flowing from their mouths were inspired by the Baroque gardens in the records of Yirmisekiz Mehmet Çelebi.
The flower paintings on the walls of the Yemiş Room (the private chamber of Ahmet III) in the harem area of the Topkapı Palace, as well as the flower pots and vases with flowers in the wall niches are three-dimensional, naturalistic and still-life-like, almost like paintings, and adorn all the walls and cabinet doors. These elaborate wall decorations, which also include perspective, are like the Ottoman version of the highly ornate ceiling and wall paintings of European Baroque and Rococo palaces.
In the works of the painter Ali Üsküdari, the most important illumination, lacquer, miniature, calligraphy and poetry artist of the Tulip period, we can see the influences of the East and the West coalesced together in his motifs and flower miniatures. The floral miniatures in his book of poems and floral miniatures entitled “Gazeller” are painted three-dimensionally in a naturalistic style.
Another important artist of the time was Levni. Levni’s “Surname” is like the last example of classical Ottoman illustrated manuscripts. Although he adhered to the rules of traditional Ottoman art, he also remained open to Western influences. Levni, who is thought to have been particularly influenced by the works of the European painter Jean-Baptiste van Mour, who was active in Istanbul between 1699 and 1737, can be considered one of the last representatives of the classical miniature tradition. He brought radical innovations to traditional painting and breathed new life into 18th century Ottoman miniature painting with his profound motifs and figures with expressive faces. The painting style of the Tulip period can be described as the style of Levni, the last great traditionalist and master of manuscript painting.
The long reign of Mahmud I is the period when most of the works were created under the influence of European Baroque and Rococo art. The Nur-u-Osmaniye mosque and complex is the first Baroque mosque built in the Ottoman Empire; it is a true and local interpretation of the Baroque style. The rich Rococo ornamentation and Baroque architecture were easy to get used to and popular because they were in a place that was constantly used by merchants and the public and were highly visible. Mosques, mausoleums, fountains and public fountains with Baroque and Rococo ornaments started to feature in prominent places such as covered bazaar entrances, promenades and squares, facilitating their adoption by the wider public. These new motifs, which were used on a limited scale at first, gradually expanded from the fountain mirrors to the door frames, from the minaret balconies to the large column capitals and to all decorated surfaces; the classical cornices with sharp geometric lines were replaced by the serene movements of curves and large concave profiles, and the depth of three dimensions featured more prominently in works of decoration. This put an entirely new complexion on Istanbul architecture (“Baroque and Rococo in Turkish Decorative Art”, Asiye Okumuş, pp. 17-34).