The Ottoman Renaissance : A reconsideration of early modern Ottoman Art 1413-1575

Metin Mustafa, The University of Notre Dame Australia


The Ottoman Renaissance, which took place during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Bursa, Edirne and Istanbul, produced an extraordinary array of artworks in the form of monumental architecture, Iznik tiles, calligraphy and illustrated manuscripts. Notwithstanding the exceptional artistic production, Ottoman art and architecture have not received the same attention in historiography as, for instance, the celebrated Renaissance of Italy. Drawing upon notions of rebirth characteristic of renaissances more generally, this study seeks to situate early modern Ottoman art within a more global Renaissance context. The study recognises the cultural interaction and sharing of values across the Mediterranean basin that characterised the period yet examines Ottoman artistic expression through specifically Ottoman conceptions of rebirth. Ottoman ideas of rebirth although built on the classicism of Greece and Rome moved well beyond these legacies. Indeed, this thesis uniquely contends that the Ottomans were much more focused on their Eastern (Turkic, Timurid, Persian) and Islamic heritage, than that of the classical world which features in the West. Additionally, both the ancient and recent past provided inspiration on which to build a cultural identity specific to the Ottoman experience. In order to fully understand the shared values of the early modern Mediterranean and critically engage in different interpretations of rebirth, the study explicitly compares the works of three Renaissance contemporaries: the Italian Giorgio Vasari and the Ottoman Mustafa Ali and Mimar Sinan.

The thesis argues that the unique geographic position of the sultans of the Ottoman court allowed the artists of the Ottoman Empire to capitalise on the inherited legacies of both the Islamic–Timurid–Turkic–Persian East and the Latin West. Theresult was a synthesis of Eastern and Western exemplars which ultimately produced a rebirth in the arts distinct from their early modern Italian and European counterparts. The thesis traces this Renaissance from its beginnings in 1413 through to its triumphant phase in the Süleymanic Age (1520–1575). In its examination of the empire’s monumental architecture, decorative tiles, calligraphy and miniature paintings, the thesis contributes to current scholarship in the field which seeks to assess the Renaissance from a more complex, multi-focal and multinational perspective. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that many renaissances arose concurrently in the Mediterranean basin in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.