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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter II. Spirit of the Nation: Customs, Language, Religion

The popular costumes of Turkey in 1873

Osman Hamdi Bey et Victor Marie de Launay
Traduction de Ahmet Ersoy

Texte intégral

1Title: Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873/Elbise-i ‛Osmaniyye (The popular costumes of Turkey in 1873)

2Originally published: Istanbul, The Levant Times and Shipping Gazette Press, 1873

3Language: Text in French; captions of photographic plates in Ottoman Turkish

4A Turkish translation has been published with the title 1873 Senesinde Türkiye’de Yerel Kıyafetler, translated by Erol Üyepazarcı (Istanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi, 1999). The excerpts used are from the original edition of 1873, pp. 7–9 and 17–18.

About the authors

5Osman Hamdi Bey [1842, Istanbul – 1910, Istanbul): Ottoman official and painter. In his youth, Osman Hamdi was sent to Paris by his father (İbrahim Edhem Paşa, a prominent member of the Tanzimat elite) to study law, where, instead, he attended classes on art and archaeology in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts until his return home in 1871. Although Hamdi Bey was not a registered student of the Ecole, it is generally assumed that he had worked in the ateliers of the eminent Orientalists Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger. Osman Hamdi became one of the most active figures of Ottoman cultural life after returning to the imperial capital. From 1881 to 1910 he served as the director of the Imperial Museum of Antiquities. During his term, he directed several archaeological excavations within the imperial territories and initiated official regulations and laws that were aimed at stopping the pillaging of historical ruins by European dealers and archaeologists. Later, Osman Hamdi played a major role in the establishment of the Imperial School of Fine Arts (1882) where he taught painting until his death. In the footsteps of his masters, Osman Hamdi Bey produced paintings in the Orientalist manner throughout his artistic career. But in contrast to the majority of European artists, for whom the ideological constructs about the East existed as an uncritically accepted discursive substructure, the Ottoman artist manipulated the Orientalist genre as an instrument to deliver a clear alternative message that was informed by a larger cultural and ideological agenda. Osman Hamdi employed and appropriated European techniques of representation in order to construct what he held to be “objective” scenes of a putatively native and pristine Ottoman/Islamic past, albeit with a highly picturesque and self-exoticizing technique of representation. Marie de Launay and Osman Hamdi Bey were among the most vocal and productive on the Ottoman intellectual scene striving to assess, salvage and promote the traditional arts.

6Main works: Le Tumulus de Nemroud Dagh (co-authored with [Yervant] Osgan Efendi, 1883); Les Ruines d’Aslan-Tasch (1889); Une Necropole royale à Sidon: Fouilles de Hamdi Bey (co-authored with Salomon T. Reinach, 1892).

7Victor Marie de Launay [1822 or 1823, Paris –?, Istanbul]: Artist and amateur historian, an Ottoman official of French origin. According to the official Ottoman biographical records, Marie de Launay received most of his education at home, under the supervision of his father, César Marie de Launay, who was an official connected to the palace. The records indicate that de Launay also benefited from the tutorship of a certain Léon Gautier (most probably the eminent philologist and member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres), whose views on medieval history and folk traditions must have left an indelible mark on de Launay. Throughout his versatile career in the Ottoman Empire, he displayed a similarly romantic enthusiasm for Early Ottoman/Late Medieval history and for local customs and popular lore. Marie de Launay arrived in Istanbul around the time of the Crimean War, and in 1857 became the assistant engineer, archivist and draughtsman of the newly established Pera Municipality (the Sixth Municipal District) in Istanbul, which was the model area for instituting modern municipal reforms at the time. By virtue of his scholarly interest in architecture, art and traditional crafts, Marie de Launay became deeply involved in the representation of the Ottoman Empire in world expositions throughout his official career. He contributed to the Ottoman exhibits not only as an organizer and an author, but also as an exhibitor— an amateur artist and collector who displayed his own paintings (mostly scenes about medieval history), illustrations of Ottoman types and costumes, and collections of handcrafted objects on various national and international occasions. Through his official role he had a chance to be involved in many substantial publications related to the expositions. For the 1867 Paris Exposition, for instance, he authored the voluminous catalogue of the Ottoman exhibits, La Turquie à l’éxposition universelle de 1867 (Paris, 1867), generally attributed to the director of the Ottoman commission, Salaheddin Bey. Marie de Launay was co-author of the earliest scholarly study on the history and theory of Ottoman architecture, the Usul-i Mi‛mari-i ‛Osmani/ L’Architecture ottomane (Istanbul, 1873), produced on the occasion of the 1873 world exposition in Vienna. The records do not provide the date of Marie de Launay’s death but indicate that he retired from his official post in 1890.

8Main works: Coup l’oeil général sur l’éxposition nationale à Constantinople – Extraits du “Journal de Constantinople” (Istanbul, 1863); with Montani Efendi, Usul-i Mi‛mari-i ‛Osmani / L’Architecture ottomane (Istanbul, 1873); and, with the palace chemist Bonkowsky Bey, Brusa ve Civarı [Bursa and environs] (Istanbul, 1880).


9The Elbise-i ‛Osmaniyye/Les Costumes populaires de la Turquie is a photographic album of traditional Ottoman dress commissioned by the Ottoman government on the occasion of the 1873 World Exposition in Vienna. The Elbise comprises seventy-four photographic plates, each featuring a group of live models displaying regional outfits. The plates are organized under three main sections (the European Territories, the Aegean/Mediterranean Islands and the Asian/African Territories) that are subdivided into twenty two units according to the provincial divisions of the empire. Each plate (carrying explanatory headings in Ottoman Turkish) is supplemented by texts written in French, providing detailed comments about the sartorial traditions of the particular groups depicted as well as basic information on the history, geography and customs of the area under scrutiny. The whole project was undertaken jointly by Osman Hamdi Bey, the eminent painter who acted as the commissary of the Ottoman exhibits in 1873, and Victor Marie de Launay. In the Vienna Exposition the Elbise was displayed along with a large collection of Ottoman costumes, exhibited in the main gallery of the Ottoman section, consisting of mannequins wearing the popular costumes documented in the Elbise. As the French title of the volume suggests, with the Elbise collection Hamdi Bey and Marie de Launay sought to portray the ordinary Ottoman subject from a detached ethnographic viewpoint. Categorically dismissing images of the Westernized urban elite, they chose to focus exclusively on the Ottoman commoner who largely maintained the traditional tastes and life-style of the pre-Tanzimat era. Their vision was that an exhaustive and analytical documentation of popular dress would not only present a realistic and consummate picture of the diverse Ottoman polity to local and international viewers, but would also surpass and correct orientalist generalizations and inaccuracies that were ingrained in common European perceptions of the Ottoman Empire.

10In the introduction of the Elbise Hamdi Bey and de Launay make a clear distinction between two types of clothing: “garment” (vêtement) and “costume.” The former stands for the modern (European) manner of dressing which, the authors claim, is perpetually inflicted by the “caprices of fashion,” while the latter represents the unwavering, local traditions in dress which are “perfectly adapted” to the peculiar conditions and proprieties of their use (the climate and geography involved, the social rank and profession of the wearer, and so on). It was the insight of the Ottoman authors that while modern garments effaced all signs of social and cultural difference in society, homogenizing the world with its “strict and cold uniformity,” local costumes “[imposed] lively sentiments of confraternity and solidarity … and thus realized, on a national scale … the rational definition of the good and the beautiful,” which the authors summarized under the rubric ‘Variety in unity.’

11The way Ottoman subjects are represented in the Elbise corroborated the role attributed to costume as a crucial agent of social order and harmony. In most photographs, people from various walks of life are brought together irrespective of their social standing or occupation in order to provide a comprehensive and amalgamated picture of the diverse imperial conglomerate. Interestingly, the very image of multi-ethnic unity conveyed by these syncretic tableaux was diametrically opposed to that defined and imposed by the early Tanzimat reformers, which entailed rigorous dress codes on the official level, promoting uniform Europeanized attire as the ubiquitous marker of a new and more homogenous Ottoman identity. The Elbise, then, with its celebration of local diversity in dress, is an accurate indicator of how the terms of participation within the reformulated Ottoman identity were altered during the Late Tanzimat. With a few decades of the reforms behind them, the Ottoman intellectuals were now keen to utilize the visual power of clothing in order to emphasize the expressed cultural differences (the abundant “variety”) of the Ottoman society which were happily and harmoniously subordinated to a supra-ethnic/religious sense of (imperial/national) unity. Appropriately, Europeanized attire is displayed in only one case in the Elbise. The first plate of the album features a young “bourgeois” gentleman from Istanbul donning the “black official dress” adopted by government employees and the Westernized upper classes (see excerpt below). The authors openly acknowledge the civic virtues of this outfit that makes an “efendi, bey or pasha” out of Greeks, Armenians and Levantines and recognize it as an agent that helps dispel age-old hatreds nurtured by some intolerant Muslims. Yet, they still find it regretful that the “noble, comfortable and healthy” alternatives offered by the traditional costume are stamped out by the constricting and ungainly standards of Westernizing fashion.

12The Elbise, then, testifies to the ambiguities, contradictions and incurable optimism of the official Ottoman discourse, as it seeks to define the terms by which a modern and overarching Tanzimat identity can be reconciled with tradition and cultural diversity. But one also needs to remember that in its romantic-traditionalist view of Ottoman culture and society, the Elbise renders the products of ‘indigenous tradition’ favorable and attractive to the eyes of a modern European audience who displayed an immense aesthetic curiosity for anything that was ‘untarnished’ by the ills of modern industrialism. This compliance should not come as a surprise, though, since the Westernized Ottoman elite was equally obsessed with the sensual allure of ‘pure’ and ‘authentic’ tradition, and the aesthetic arsenal of Late Tanzimat traditionalism drew heavily on the sensibilities of European Orientalism.


The popular costumes of Turkey in 1873


14We believe that it is important to call attention to the essential differences between traditional “costume” and “garment.” While both types of dress serve the same sartorial purpose, the latter [that is, the modern outfit] displays no particular or characteristic features appropriate to its use; always following the caprices of fashion, it is subject to endless change. Costume, on the other hand, is invariable in its overall features and its cut. It displays only slight modifications depending on the quality of the fabric chosen and the elegance of the supplementary adornments.

15Day by day, modern garment grows to be a uniform for the entire world. Not only does the garment efface all distinctions between various classes of a society, it also obliterates the natural and moral barriers that were thought to separate nations in inviolable ways. In direct contrast, the traditional costume is perfectly adapted to the particular conditions, climatic requirements and customs of each land. As such, it stands as a notable area of interest and an inexhaustible source of information for ethnographical and social studies. […] Considering all ranks of the social ladder, one would surely conclude that the costume surpasses the uniform garment in fully satisfying the diverse needs of the peasant, the workman from any trade, the modest bourgeois and the wealthy elite.

16Upon viewing our collection of the popular costumes of Turkey, one realizes the unmistakable superiority of costume over garment. The spectacle reveals the perfect appropriateness of the costume of a sakka [water carrier], a caïkdji [boatman], a hamal [porter], a Bulgarian peasant, an Arab chief or a Syrian to the diverse conditions in which he lives, to the climate of his region, to the trade or profession he belongs, or to the position he occupies in society.

17In this sense, we clearly recognize that the costume realizes the rational definition of the good and the beautiful, which can be epitomized by the words: variety in unity. Neither of these terms apply to garment, as during the short reign of each fashion there is no room for variety; fashion is strictly and coldly uniform. And then, exhausted after six months, the current fashion disappears; to be replaced by yet another one. Hence, the lack of a sense of unity in fashion.

18Perhaps it is partly due to the influence of the garment, a completely modern creation, that European societies are faced with a new moral deformity, unknown to this day, and for which a well chosen term is invented: the déclassé.

19The influence of costume is in complete contrast to that of garment; it is indisputably beneficial. Costume maintains, in a natural sense, lively sentiments of solidarity, which can still be observed in Europe, for instance, in the special uniforms of some elite regiments or in the apparel of certain religious orders.

20Similarly, the esnaf organizations [craft guilds] in Turkey deserve to be mentioned as regards the moralizing power of costume. Costume imposes a sense of shared responsibility, which engenders feelings of solid confraternity and professional integrity … to all members of the guild.

21It is also important not to dismiss the picturesque aspect of costume. It is certainly not a minor advantage, since for many the picturesque element constitutes the fundamental appeal of costume. […]

22We believe that … the present study will be highly beneficial not only for artists, but, above all, for economists and researchers who work towards achieving the well-being of society. For the artists, this volume is a mine of precious materials; for fashion professionals, it is an interesting and instructive source of recreation; as for the philosopher and the savant, they will find numerous subjects for creative reflection and fruitful research. […]

Description of the plate featuring a “bourgeois of Constantinople:”

23[…] The “Europeanized” can be of all religions and nationalities of the Ottoman Empire, and from all classes of society. He sports the outfit rigorously adopted by the government officers. It is the ceremonial costume, the “black coat” of the progressives. It consists of the red fez, the black setri [Ottoman style frock-coat with no collar] and black trousers. But the excessively Europeanized type, very common among the rich classes, pushes things much further. … In Constantinople, Smyrna and other large cities of the empire, one comes across “advanced” bourgeois types of exquisite taste who are not afraid to replace their fez with that marvel of elegance, the top-hat. At all times, they take care to carry a fez in their pockets, in case they need to present themselves to a backward-minded authority.

24Still, we cannot deny the benefits of civilization. Everyone would agree that the black setri, the fez and the trousers, as well as the bottines [ankleboots], render a great service: they help mollify the hatreds that often divided the diverse religions and nationalities of the empire; they help efface the prominent differences that mark the non-Muslims in the eyes of the fanatics (that is, the spiteful Muslims), and allow Greeks, Armenians, Levantines and foreigners to be recognized as effendis, beys and pashas. Yet, while acknowledging all these benefits, we still regret the replacement of the picturesque costumes of the old days by the new garments.

25Indeed, traditional costumes, the large djubbé [robe], the chalwar [baggy pants] in which the feet move at ease, the salta [short jacket] with free and comfortable arm-holes […] the solid yèmènis [light shoes] of red and yellow color, the kulah [conical hat] and the saryk [turban], mortal enemies of the flu, in their simple, noble and comfortable ensemble, are indubitably more hygienic than the tight, ungraceful and ridiculous garment of the Europeanized moderns.


Ahmet Ersoy (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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