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BAZAAR PAINTERS IN OTTOMAN TIMES

The bazaar painters constitute an era of folk painting first found in Istanbul in the 17th century. The term “Bazaar Painters” is, as the name suggests, used to refer to professional folk painters with shops in the bazaar who painted pictures on subjects commissioned by their customers. That so little attention has been given to the topic is due to the almost complete absence, with a few exceptions, of any examples of their work in Turkish museums or libraries. As we shall see in this study, the albums containing specimens of their work are to be found mainly in museums and libraries outside of Turkey or in private collections. Could the reason for this be that only foreigners were customers of bazaar painters? It is certainly true that the majority of their customers were foreigners. Just as modern tourists buy postcards and slides, or take photographs or video tapes, as souvenirs of the places they have seen, foreign travelers in the 17th century would either buy pictures, if available, of subjects that interested them, or, if none were at hand, commission pictures from the bazaar painters. They would then collect them in albums and write under the pictures in their own language (mostly in French and Italian). Undoubtedly, there were also Turkish buyers. But very few of the pictures they bought have survived. This stems from our own negative attitudes, such as our failures, unlike most Europeans, to show sufficient interest in our own cultural products. One could also interpret it as a result of a certain difference in our approach to figurative representation. And yet another reason may be that most of these paintings are on erotic themes, they would be stolen from others or done away with.

I have tried to draw up an inventory of the bazaar painters’ albums scattered in various countries, and embark on the examination of these. The number of albums that emerged was far greater than I had expected. It is obviously impossible to list all of these here, but I give the principal albums below according to the countries in which they were found.

Turkey: There are two albums in the Ankara Ethnographical Museum, one album in the Istanbul Naval Museum and another album in the Istanbul German Archaeological Institute.

Italy: Two albums in Venice, one album in Florence and another one in Bologna. France: There are four albums in the Bibliotheque Nationale.

U.K.: Various albums are to be found in the British Museum and the British Library. There are also two albums in the Oxford Bodleian Library.

Germany: There is one album in Berlin and two three-volume sets in Munich, one being a copy of the other.

Austria: Albums consisting of six volumes are to be found in the National Library in Vienna, some of them being copies of the others.

One volume is to be found in Stockholm/Sweden, one in Leiden/Holland and one in Warsaw/Poland. Besides these, albums can be found in private collections and sales catalogues.

The question to be answered is “What features were common in the court artists and bazaar painters and what were the features by which they are distinguished? It is impossible in a short article to give a detailed answer to this question, but the most important point is that, as they were both products of the same cultural environment, they started off from the sane basic scheme, the approaches adopted by the two circles were quite different. We might say that the court artists applied a method of enhancement, while the bazaar painter applied the method of reduction. In other words, the court artists added a great deal in the way of colour, detail and decoration on the basic scheme. Using more colour and gilt, and going into detail of costume and architectural ornament. The bazaar painters, on the other hand, discarded everything that was not essential. Reduced the range of colour and carried economy to the point of caricature. Little importance was given to proportions, or to anatomy and perspective, which we have referred to as the basic scheme. All methods that would produce light and shade and a three-dimensional effect were ignored, and while elements to which importance was given were exaggerated, the laws of gravity and weight were discarded. The best examples of the basic scheme were the portraits of the sultans. Court artists produced many series of sultans portraits, the album of a later date containing portraits of the later sultans. The same basic scheme was employed in all of them, but reduced in form, the background decoration has been removed.

One may say that the most important distinction between miniature painters is to be found in the delineation of daily life, common men, pictures of various places and buildings in Istanbul, the pictures of buildings that are no longer standing being particularly valuable, family subjects, markets, shops, coffee houses, harem, women of the court etc. Although miniature painters generally avoided these subjects, bazaar painters’ albums contain a large number of these subjects.

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