Images of Childhood

Children of the Ottoman Seraglio
by Hülya Tezcan
Aygaz


Hülya Tezcan, the distinguished author of this wide-ranging study, is a historian and archaeologist and the curator of the unrivalled collection of costumes and textiles in the Topkapı Sarayı Museum. She builds on the work of earlier scholars, reviewing it in the light of reports by foreign observers, memoirs, probate inventories, records of the kadıs’ judicial courts, photographic albums and, of course, museum collections inside and outside Turkey, to give an encyclopaedic account of rites of passage in the sultans’ palace.

Moreover, by bringing her account up to the early twentieth century, she graphically illustrates the impact of Westernisation on the later Ottoman Empire, which radically affected life in the palace in virtually every respect.

The core of the book is a study of the children’s costumes in the Topkapı Sarayi which, Professor Tezcan interestingly observes, took little account of gender or cut. This suggests that, as elsewhere in Europe, children’s formal costume was viewed as a form of dressing up. One puzzle, however, is their generally pristine state, which, while rightly discounting the possibility that heavy silks could ever have been laundered, she attributes to their being so rarely worn. But small children are very messy: even barely worn garments could easily have been soiled, and some form of dry-cleaning, perhaps with fuller’s earth, must have been used. Interestingly, in a list of palace craftsmen of 1526 the wages of the launderers compare very well with those of the most highly skilled corps, such as the jewellers, which suggests that they were not labourers but skilled specialists.

The book is exceptionally well-produced, and the only reservation I have is the faceless mannequins, which to an adult eye are rather worrying. The illustrations are of excellent quality and the book is yet another feather in the cap of Ömer Koc’s generous cultural patronage.

JM Rogers is honorary curator of the Nasser D Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 36
  • Heaven on a Plate

    This modern Turkish favourite is a descendant of şeker gurabiye, the biscuit served at 16th-century Ottoman feasts

  • Divine Restoration

    By the mid-1990s the Zeyrek Camii was in a state of alarming decrepitude. Now that the Byzantine masterpiece has been rescued, what lessons have been learnt? For Robert Ousterhout, who was closely involved in the restoration, the old ways are always the best. Photographs by Jürgen Frank


  • New Light on Old Glories at the V&A

    For three years, the main Islamic Middle East gallery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was closed. It reopened in 2006 with spectacular effect. Here we present some key aspects of a stunning permanent collection that can now be seen, literally, in an entirely new light. Commentary by its curator, Tim Stanley. Gallery photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg


  • Crimea

    The Crimean War of 1853–56 which ended 150 years ago this year [2006] now seems very remote. Why were Great Britain and France, in alliance with Ottoman Turkey, fighting Russia in the Black Sea? Norman Stone investigates the causes and reviews an exhibition of Crimean War memorabilia at the Sadberk Hanim Museum.


Buy the Book
Buy the issue
Issue 36, 2006 A Beauty on the Bosphorus
£12.00 / $15.93 / 74.68 TL
Books by JM Rogers