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Identity in the Ottoman Empire

Published July 25, 2019

An exhibition at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts curated by Prof. Lynn Jones,
Art History, in collaboration with student researchers from Art History, History, and Religion.

August 19 – November 9, 2019

Identity in the Ottoman Empire is an exploration of the diverse ethnic and religious identities that coexisted in the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1300-1922), which at its greatest extent  spanned  3 continents comprised of approximately 25 million subjects.  Architectural drawings, period photography, stamps, textiles, calligraphy, illustrated documents, and  stereoscope cards focus on three aspects of Ottoman identity: that of the Empire, in the Empire, and the ways in which the Ottoman Sultan  crafted and exported  images that catered to the European and North American market for the “exotic Orient.”

The exhibition will reopen on Thursday, October 24th at 6 pm with new contributions by students in ARH 4933, Art and Architecture of the Ottoman Empire. Ten groups of students each chose a monument built by Mimar Sinan; they researched the design of the individual structures and also sought to place each in context with Sinan’s other works. They gave particular focus to the role women played in shaping the visual expression of power in Constantinople and Edirne, the final and the third capitals of the Empire, respectively.  Students wrote text for museum labels, found comparanda and images documenting the current use of each building or complex, and compiled bibliographies.  Four of the student groups added architectural plates to those currently on display at MoFA, and the other six groups present their work via websites linked to QR codes in the museum. Their work gives a fresh perspective to the display of Sinan’s legacy in the creation of architectural forms that represented the Empire.

At its greatest extent in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was a world power. The Sultan ruled over an estimated 25 million people of diverse ethnicities, religions and languages, in lands spanning three continents.  The Sultan was Sunni Muslim, descended by biological or ideological line from the founder, Osman (c. 1299). The first two Ottoman capitals, Bursa and Edirne, were seized from Byzantine control. The third, Constantinople, was taken in 1453 in the conquest of the Byzantine Empire. The conquest of Mamluk Egypt in 1517 allowed the Ottoman Sultanate to claim recognition as the Fourth Caliphate–thereby controlling the holy cities of Mecca and Medina–and recognition as the de facto leaders of the Muslim world.

The wealth of the Empire was derived from trade; the Ottoman navy controlled the Mediterranean. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ottoman ports, particularly those in North Africa, were the primary source for goods desired by Europeans: silks, textiles, coffee, and tulips. During this “Golden Age,” the Sultan was related by marriage to royal families of European nations, and diplomatic ties with Europe were strong. European artists vied for patronage in the Imperial court, and traditional arts, particularly calligraphy, textiles and ceramics, flourished.  As European nations grew more powerful in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of decline, and was partitioned and progressively fragmented by military losses. Reforms were initiated to re-shape the cumbersome bureaucracy on western models, but overstressed the economy. Ottoman defeat in World War I and the subsequent loss of more territory spurred civil unrest. Nationalism dominated the last years of the Empire, with the Armenian Genocide, begun in 1915; the persecution and murder of ethnic minorities, particularly Greek and Romanian; and the displacement of millions of people. The Turkish War of Independence abolished the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922; the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923.


Identity in the Ottoman Empire was curated by Lynn Jones, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History. This exhibition reflects the combined efforts and generosity of many faculty, students, departments, and organizations from across Florida State University, including Adam Gaiser and the Department of Religion; Will Hanley, Nilay Özok-Gündoğan, and the Department of History; Annette Schwabe, Azat Gündoğan and FSU’s Honors Program; Zeina Schlenoff and FSU’s Middle East Center;  Katie McCormick and the staff of Strozier Library’s Special Collections & Archives;  Sherry Schofield and FSU’s Historic Clothing & Textiles Collection; Yelena McLane, Alejandro Marquez and the Department of Interior Architecture & Design; Anna Prentiss and the College of Fine Arts;  Jean Hudson and the Department of Art History. Particular thanks go to Sonia Dixon, Research Assistant to the Curator, to Gemma Sunnergren for her work on stamps, and to the student volunteers: Madison Gilmore-Duffey, Paris Gilstrap, Drake Faris, Zachary Soldo, Graciela Medina, Meredith Ellis, Michael Morales, Sarah Mathiesen, Caitlin Mims, Mathias Bishop, Callie Herold, and Mel Quarles.