The Ottoman state was founded by Turkish tribes in northwestern Anatolia in 1299 and became an empire in 1453 after the momentous conquest of Constantinople. Stretching across Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Empire was vast and long lived, lasting until 1922 when the monarchy was abolished in Turkey.
The Ottoman Turks were renowned for their architecture, building a large number of public buildings, mosques, and caravanserais or roadside inns for travelers, as well as for their traditions of calligraphy and miniature painting. They were also renowned for their decorative arts including carpet weaving, jewelry making, paper marbling, and their characteristic Iznik ware ceramics.
Ottoman mosques and other architecture first emerged in the cities of Bursa and Edirne in the 14th and 15th centuries, developing from earlier Seljuk Turk architecture, with additional influences from Byzantine, Persian, and Islamic Mamluk traditions. Sultan Mehmed II would later even fuse European traditions in his rebuilding programs at Istanbul in the 19th century. Byzantine styles as seen in the Hagia Sophia served as particularly important models for Ottoman mosques, such as the mosque constructed by Sinan. Building reached its peak in the 16th century when Ottoman architects mastered the technique of building vast inner spaces surmounted by seemingly weightless yet incredibly massive domes, and achieved perfect harmony between inner and outer spaces, as well as articulated light and shadow. They incorporated vaults, domes, square dome plans, slender corner minarets, and columnsinto their mosques, which became sanctuaries of transcendently aesthetic and technical balance.
Kulliye, a complex of buildings centered around a mosque and managed within a single institution, became a particular focus of imperial patronage. Turkish building projects in Constantinople – later renamed Istanbul – prioritized these complexes focusing on a mosque that combined religious, funerary, educational, and financial institutions.
Despite variations, Ottoman architecture remained fairly uniform throughout the empire. Examples of the high classical period can be found in Turkey, the Balkans, Hungary, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, where mosques, bridges, fountains, and schools were built. A particularly fine example of an Ottoman mosque is the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, built between 1568 and 1574. Flanked by four tall minarets and crowned by a monumental dome, the mosque also has a remarkable interior, which is lit by a multitude of tiny windows that allow the tiled walls to sparkle in the interplay of shadow and light .
Selimiye Mosque, Edirne
Commissioned by Sultan Selim II and was built by famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan between 1569 and 1575, the Selimiye Mosque was considered by Sinan to be his masterpiece and is one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture.
Ottoman miniature painting, which was usually used to illustrate manuscripts or in albums specifically dedicated to miniatures, was heavily influenced by Persian miniature painting, Byzantine illumination and Chinese artistic influences. A Greek academy of painters, the Nakkashane-i-Rum, was established in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul in the 15th century and a Persian academy, the Nakkashane-i-Irani, added in the early 15th century. The Greek artists typically specialized decorating documentary books and painting portraits and scenes from the lives of rulers and historical events. The Persian artists specialized in illustrating traditional works of Persian poetry. Scientific books on botany, zoology, alchemy, cosmography, and medicine were also often illustrated.
Works were usually created by a team of painters. The head painter designed the composition while his apprentices drew the contours and then painted the miniature. The colors were obtained from ground powder pigments mixed with egg whites or diluted gum arabic, resulting in brilliant colors. The most commonly used colors were bright red, green, and varying shades of blue. Ottoman painters did not seek to depict human beings or other figures realistically, aiming instead to hint at an infinite and transcendent reality. As a result, their paintings were stylized and abstract, although they became progressively more realistic from the 18th century onwards with influences from European baroque and Rococo styles .
Ottoman Miniature Painters, late 16th/early 17th century
Painting atelier of the Sultan. The miniature shows the author, probably the court chronicler Talikizade, caligraphist and miniature painter working on the “Shahname” for Mehmet III (ruled 1595-1603). The painter on the left is Nakkaş Hasan, who is working on a scene of the capitulation of Eger Castle.
The art of carpet weaving was particularly important in the Ottoman Empire, where carpets were immensely valued both as decorative furnishings and for their practical value. They were used not just on floors but also as wall and door hangings, where they provided additional insulation. These intricately knotted carpets were made of silk, or a combination of silk and cotton, and were often rich in religious and other symbolism. Hereke silk carpets, which were made in the coastal town of Hereke, were the most valued of the Ottoman carpets because of their fine weave. The Hereke carpets were typically used to furnish royal palaces .
Carpet and Interior of the Harem Room, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
The Ottoman Turks were famed for the quality of their finely woven and intricately knotted silk carpets.
The Ottoman Empire was also known for the skill of its gold and silver smiths, who made jewelry with complex designs and incorporated complex filigree work and a variety of Persian and Byzantine motifs. They were renowned for their ceramics, particularly Iznik pottery, which was made in western Anatolia and consisted of high quality pottery made of fritware and painted with cobalt blue under a colorless lead glaze. The intricate designs combined traditional Ottoman arabesque patterns with Chinese elements.