Sunday, September 28, 2008

Golden Horn from Pierre Loti

golden horn by baruyr bardizbanyan

I like old Istanbul pictures, not because I am nostalgic or anything but because they show a less crowded, greener and calmer Istanbul, not spoiled by greed which turned it into cacophony of ugly buildings and structures that do not belong to the city or anywhere, as a matter of fact.

On this oil on fibreboard painting by Baruyr Bardizbanyan (1887-1932), we see a glimpse of Golden Horn as seen from Pierre Loti Hill. The name of the hill comes from the cafe dedicated to Pierre Loti (Louis Marie Julien Viaud, 1850-1923) whose nick was said to be given by Tahitians and was the name of an exotic flower. He first came to Istanbul as a navy officer in 1876 and wrote about the places he had been.

Dimensions: 36.5x50 cm.
Estimated Value: $ 5,000

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Istanbul, Karakoy; 100 Years Ago

Digital photography has killed many things, one being your imagination. Color photography killed the secrecy. What else left? Black and white photos always had a secret, a secret only for your eyes; a secret that would trigger your imagination and take you somewhere else, a personal destination of your own, that only you were invited.

Take a look at this bromide picture by Breger Freres, Paris, and let your imagination carry you away after it discloses your personal secret.

Estimated value: $ 100

Monday, September 15, 2008

Porcelain Plate with an Ottoman Woman Figure

ottoman woman figure on porcelain plate
A perfect seeker's challenge! This 19th century porcelain plate with a figure of Ottoman woman has been recently auctioned in Istanbul. The way she dressed, her necklace and earrings, the hat, her facial features strongly suggest that she modeled for the artist. I have been trying to find out who she was for the last couple of days with no luck, so far.

Diameter: 29 cm.
Estimated value: $ 400

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hilton 1956 New Year's Menu

flier cover of Hilton Hotels for new year of 1956
How about remembering good old days? This is the cover of the Hilton's flier for 1956 New Year's menu. Famous puppet theater character Karagoz is holding the baloons.

Apparently, it was before the age of advertising companies charging big bucks in the name of public relations as it is sweet and heartfelt. A rarity for the corporate world of today.

Estimated value: $ 60

Benedetto Brin in Istanbul

benedetto brin anchored in Istanbul

Here is a small treat for enthusiasts of naval history. Pictured is a photograph of Benedetto Brin, Regina Margherita class, anchored in Istanbul in 1912. Designed by Benedetto Brin for the Italian Navy, the class consisted of two battleships, the other one being Regina Margherita. They were both fast ships (20 knots) but never proved themselves in battle. Brin, after being launched in 1905, was sunk in Brindisi harbor by enemy sabotage in 1915.

Estimated value: $ 80

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pictures and Painting in Islam

book cover, silvia naef, bilder und bilderverbot
It is only time that we touch a few thorny subjects, and possibly the thorniest of them all is the status of pictures or painting in Islam and Islamic art. The so called ban on pictures opens the door to a myriad of conflicting views and the end result is more than one billion confused people. Some Islamic scholars claim it is banned in any and every form, some claim the ban is on animate objects, some say it is only limited to picturing the prophet, i.e. Mohammad, and some of course believe there is no such restriction at all.

The issue has not come to the attention of the West until Taliban's destruction of an ancient Buddha temple (because it has a picture of Buddha) in Afghanistan in March 2001. After the temple were blown to pieces, the idea that Islam is hostile to painting has emerged in the West, and exacerbated with the Mohammad caricatures or cartoons of last year.

Before we proceed, let us also define what we mean by Islamic art. Sheila S. Brown and Jonathan M. Bloom give a description of Islamic art in their article The Mirage of Islamic Art: Reflections on the study of an Unwieldy Field (2003, College Art Association; full article requires JSTOR access) as follows:

Islamic art is generally held to be "the art made by artists or artisans whose religion was Islam, for patrons who lived in predominantly Muslim lands, or for purposes that are restricted or peculiar to a Muslim population or a Muslim setting." It therefore encompasses much, if not most, of the art produced over fourteen centuries in the "Islamic lands," usually defined as the arid belt covering much of West Asia but stretching from the Atlantic coast of North Africa and Spain on the west to the steppes of Central Asia and the Indian Ocean on the east. These were the lands where Islam spread during the initial conquests in the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. Other regions where Islam flourished in later centuries, such as tropical Africa, eastern Europe, southern Russia, western China, northern India, and southeast Asia, are marginalized by this definition and thereby treated as peripheral to the main story, even though they have huge, and some majority, Muslim populations.
As an academic discipline, however, the study of Islamic art is normally restricted to the "core" Islamic lands between Egypt and Central Asia from the seventh to the eighteenth century, with occasional forays into Spain, Sicily, and India or later periods.

Now, I have no intention of dumping on you all those contradicting views. Rather, I will point you to Prof. Dr. Silvia Naef's (an expert on Islamic art) excellent book, Bilder und Bilderverbot im Islam. Vom Koran bis zum Karikaturnstreit, where she analyzes them all. If there is one source on the subject, this is it; provided you know German.

However, if you have read this far, you are entitled to my own opinion on the subject. As some of might have guessed, considering the very existence of this very web log, it is very liberal, indeed. First off, there is no such thing as a ban in the Koran. Second, the lack of the Church as an institution lead to many self acclaimed authorities in the early years of the religion, and their effects are unfortunately still dominant. Yet, there is a ban, or sort of, in Islam, which causes all the confusion. Worshipping, seeking help from objects, even ones symbolizing God is forbidden. Many mistakenly believe that the ban is on the objects, but if you carefully reread the phrase, the ban is on the actions, or verbs so to speak. If you worship, seek help, pray to an object (say picture of Mohammad), it is a no no. If you admire, show devotion, find it aesthetically pleasing, express your feelings with it, there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

miniature, ascension of mohammad from miraj-nama
Of course, my humble contribution will not change anything, how sad! So, let me confuse you all a bit more, instead. To your left, you will find just one example of a painting, miniature as a matter of fact, that single-handedly defies all the misconceptions of the centuries. Taken from Miraj-nama (ascension of Mohammad), we see Gabriel carrying Mohammad over the mountains (Tabriz, 14th century, Sarai Albums, Hazine 2154, folio 42b). Apparently, the artist did see no harm in showing the face of the prophet, surrounded by female angels whose hair were visible without headscarves. Triple Crown!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palm Trees by the Palace

palm trees by the palace by romeo berra

Romeo Berra's (1842-1913) Palm Trees by the Palace, is one of my favorites. The painting, oil on canvas, reminds me of those fantasy novels with witches, wizards and other creatures. The boat, palm trees and even the cactus on the right are simply beautiful. I can not help but fantasize living there. It is dated 1886.

Dimensions: 62x91.5 cm.
Estimated value: $ 7,000

Friday, September 5, 2008

Boulle Cabinet

marqueterie brass and ebony boulle cabinet
Sometimes Orient surprises you. During the long life of the Ottoman Empire a lot of artifacts and commodities were traded, looted, stolen, etc. You come to find an oriental piece and come across this one, which was traded in a 2007 auction in Istanbul.

This marqueterie brass and ebony enameled Boulle cabinet belonged to Hanover dynasty and is dated 1870's.

Dimensions: 128x82.5x38.5 cm.
Estimated value: $ 20,000

Mehmed Hasib Pasha's Seal

seal of mehmed hasib pasha
Signed by the famous artist of the era Hakkak Yumni, this golden seal is dated 1839. It was customary to inscribe prayers on the seals and Mehmed Hasib's seal was no exception, requesting help from God to guide him to a true and honorable life in public service. It weighs 60 grams.

Estimated value: $ 55,000

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ottoman Diamond Brooch

19th century ottoman brooch
Women and men alike, jewelry has always been a favorite item. These 19th century Ottoman diamond brooches are from a private collector and have not been auctioned, so their value can only be a rough guess and I did not bother to ask. I did not bother because, they are absolutely gorgeous; their shape, the clarity and cut of the diamonds... When you look at them from a close distance, not from a photo, it suddenly becomes clear why people are so passionate about diamonds.