The Birth Of An Aesthetic Discourse In Ottoman Architecture

Nalbantoğlu, Gülsüm
The sixteenth century was a time of impressive architectural careers both in the Ottoman Empire and in the Western world. In the West, the Renaissance culminated in the works of masters like Michelangelo and Palladio. In the Ottoman Empire, Sinan, the most widely known Ottoman architect, built the royal monuments of a prosperous age. It is obviously misleading to talk about the Renaissance as a homogenous entity since there were significant differences in the ways various cultures experienced the new artistic spirit. Italy set the standards. Beyond that, each culture offered a distinct articulation of Italian ideas with its own historical heritage. So far as the definition of the profession of architecture was concerned, however, Western Europe had reached a relative unity by the end of the century. The architect was established as an artist who conceptualized his field in terms of the Vitruvian trinity, firmitas (firmness), utilitas (commodity), and venustas (delight)2 . The patrons of architecture varied. In Italy they were wealthy merchant families and the papacy; in England, the court and the gentry; in France and Germany, the state. In all cases, these patrons recognized architecture as an art form and were ready to acknowledge the capabilities of the architect as a relatively autonomous artist. In the Ottoman Empire, on the other hand, the architect was first and foremost a servant to the state. His functions ranged from surveying and administering the construction site to regulating building practice in urban centers. Visually, the firmness and grandeur of the built product was of primary importance for the courtly patrons of architecture. There was no distinction between the terms of art and craft in Ottoman terminology (Cezar, 1971, 431).Abstract aesthetic codes, which formed the basis of Western architectural thought since the Renaissance, were absent from the vocabulary of Ottoman architects3 . Within this context, the professional histories of the Ottoman and Western architects followed two distinct trajectories until the end of the eighteenth century. Until then, the Ottoman architect had no reason to accommodate the spirit of the Renaissance since a self-confident political patronage claimed superiority over the Western world in all respects. Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the Ottoman architect witnessed radical changes in the very definition of his profession. This was the period when Westernization was adopted as an administrative, economic and cultural policy by the ruling elite in theEmpire . The field of architecture could obviously not remain untouched. Within a century, the major streets of Istanbul were lined up with the architectural orders of the West. Detailed stylistic analyses of nineteenth century buildings have been made by Turkish architectural historians (Çelik, 1986,126-155; Batur, 1985; Tuğlacı, 1981). Our concern here is less with style than with the conceptualization of architectural forms by a new generation of professionals. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, members of Ottoman artistic circles engaged in a conscious attempt to codify the aesthetics of Ottoman architecture along Western lines. This gave rise to the education of a new type of architect who identified himself first and foremost as an artist, internalizing an aesthetic discourse which his Western colleagues had long adopted as the basis of their profession.


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Citation Formats
G. Nalbantoğlu, “The Birth Of An Aesthetic Discourse In Ottoman Architecture,” ODTÜ Mimarlık Fakültesi Dergisi, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 115–122, 1988, Accessed: 00, 2020. [Online]. Available: