Ottoman art receives a sultan’s reception at BYU


    Brilliantly decorated armor, jewel-encrusted weapons, and exquisitely designed prayer rugs describe just a few of the 200-plus artifacts of Ottoman art displayed in BYU’s Museum of Art.

    Until January 2003, items from “Empire of the Sultans: Ottoman Art from the Khalili Collection” can be seen in the museum. This is one of 13 stops on a first-time tour through the United States.

    “The real beauty of the show is in the detail,” said Diana Turnbow, exhibition curator.

    As one of the largest collections of its kind, these works presents a number of objects that have never before been displayed publicly and date back as far as the 13th century, Turnbow said.

    The oldest artifact is an Egyptian sword from 1270 that was “likely taken by the Ottoman for a war prize”, she said.

    Other objects that can be seen in the collection include:

    *A miniature gold scimitar studded with hundreds of diamonds and rubies.

    *An exquisite 400-year-old glazed ceramic flask painted with vivid blue hyacinths and orange plum blossoms.

    * A turban-shaped helmet worn in battle by a horseman in the most formidable army of its time.

    * Numerous copies of the Holy Kur’an, which, for Muslims, is the literal word of God as received by the Prophet Muhammad.

    “Just let your 21st century life go, immerse yourself and step back in time,” Turnbow said.

    A war mask from 1510 is one of the most rare pieces in the show – only five exist in the world, she said.

    The mask is small with a very prominent nose, and looks as if it would fit the face of warriors perfectly.

    “People won’t see another one like that,” Turnbow said.

    A short video on Ottoman history precedes an audio-guided tour of the two-level exhibit.

    The audio device for the exhibit allows two explanations through headphones – one for adults and one for families.

    “You can go as fast or as slow as you want,” said Christine Howard, marketing and public relations manager for the Museum of Art. “You are very free to roam about where you want to go.”

    Some of Howard’s favorite pieces are the compasses that allowed the Ottomans to know the exact times to pray throughout the day.

    “To think they had scientific achievement is amazing to me,” she said.

    Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and BYU employees, and can be purchased at 422-7664, at the BYU Museum of Art information desk, or at

    “The ticket price is extremely well-valued because there’s an element for children and for adults,” Howard said.

    And the history of the artifacts is as cavernous as the intricate artwork.

    Beginning long before Columbus and continuing through World War I, the Ottoman sultans ruled an empire that dominated the Middle East and spanned three continents.

    In the late 13th century, the Ottomans emerged as a minor Turcoman principality with the heartland of the empire in Anatolia and the Balkins.

    But as its power grew, the empire eventually extended from Hungary and the Ukraine in the north to include Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Arabia and most of North Africa.

    By 1453, the Ottomans became a world power, and as its reign flourished, so did its patronage of architecture and the arts.

    The Ottomans are best known for religious architecture and decorative arts, which can be seen through the intricate artifacts in the exhibit.

    Several domestic objects are included in the collection including jugs, incense burners, coffee pots, a ladle and a scent-dropper. All employ shapes and designs influenced by artistic trends from across the empire and across parts of Europe.

    However, of all the decorative arts in the exhibition, none is more essentially Ottoman then the “star Usak” carpet created in the late 15th or early 16th century, according to documents from the Museum of Art.

    The exhibition reveals the originality and resilience of Ottoman artistic expression in religious, military, administrative and daily life and the central role of imperial patronage.

    For three decades, Nasser D. Khalili, born in Iran in 1945, collected artifacts of Islamic art. He has more than 20,000 works of art showcasing the culture of the Islamic world.

    Most of the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art was on display in Geneva (1995), in London (1996) and in Jerusalem (1997).

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email