Twisting Realism: The Representation of Power in the Portraits of Ottoman Sultans in the Early Photographic Era


The chronicles of history suggest that the period between the second half of the 18th throughout the end of the 19th century is a prolific era for scrapping off the Ottoman-Turkish state from its ages-old, tradition-led shield. In this period, starting from the reign of Selim III (1789), the rising diplomatic relations with European countries necessitated reshaping the state institutions according to westernized models and gradually a new emphasis on the visual representation of authority emerged. Furthermore rooted than Mehmed II’s earlier attempts in 15th century to add a touch of realism in Ottoman iconography, Selim’s successor, Mahmud II displayed his portraits in a realistic manner in the public space for the first time, as means of visualizing the imperial authority in a “westernized way”. Unlike the conventional Ottoman iconography which consisted of depersonalized, static representations of the sultans, these aspired to crystallize the Imperial power in the personality of the sovereign. Moreover the immediate and unquestioned immersion of the newly invented photography (1839) by the Ottoman court increased the dilemma of the visual representation of the sultans and imperial authority. This paper will analyze the effects of the introduction of photography in the Ottoman Empire, by mainly focusing on the effects of the photographic medium in affirming and/or negating the imperial authority.

Author Information
Fulya Ertem Baskaya, Yaşar University, Turkey
Emin Artun Özgüner, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2015
Stream: Humanities - Media

This paper is part of the ACAH2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon