Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 - 1910): Koranic Instruction, 1890

Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 - 1910): Koranic Instruction, 1890

3/1/2021, 1:33:41 PM
Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 - 1910): Koranic Instruction, 1890, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm., Private Collection As the first Turkish artist to fully embrace a European academic style of painting to depict his own country, Osman Hamdi Bey, more than any other Orientalist painter, personifies the bridge between European and Islamic culture. Osman Hamdi was born in Istanbul and received his artistic training in Paris during the 1860s. Unlike Western painters who approached their Orientalist subjects from the outside looking in, he enjoyed a unique position; as an artist endemic to the region, he simply painted what he knew and understood. The opulent tiled setting of the present work is a secluded corner of the Yeşil Cami, or Green Mosque, in Bursa, Turkey. Framed by a Mamluk lantern and monumental candlestick, two men face one another, the seated man receiving Koranic instruction from the standing hoja or teacher. The closely cropped composition suggests that Osman Hamdi may have had recourse to photographs, a practice favoured by French academic painters such as Jean-Léon Gérôme. While at first glance 'Koranic Instruction' bears many of the hallmarks of a French academic painting, it was a radical work for its time that challenged artistic and social norms. For a start, figurative painting was virtually unpractised by Muslim artists at the time. In addition, Osman Hamdi Bey, a cosmopolitan and well-travelled man, saw his paintings as vehicles for social commentary. At some times light-heartedly and at others provocatively, he often criticised conservative tendencies in his homeland. For example, the present work contains several subtle details that challenge the noble occupation of Koranic instruction. The preaching imam remarkably still wears his slippers despite the need to remain barefoot inside a mosque. His pupil, his slippers casually discarded in the niche beneath the alcove, appears on the verge of falling asleep. The painting is a manifestation of ideological and societal tension that not only offers European viewers an insight into Ottoman life but also promulgates a new and radical form of visual expression at home. (Sotheby's)

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