Gardens and Flowers in Ottoman Culture
Nurhan Atasoy’s beautifully printed book on the Ottoman love of horticultural art, Cornucopia’s best selling title ever, is back in print in a newly re-edited edition. An essential addition for every Turcophile’s library.
The book is beautifully printed and copiously illustrated with photographs of Ottoman textiles, miniatures and ceramics.
Garden connoisseurs and students have for some time been anticipating the publication of this lavishly illustrated book by Nurhan Atasoy. Her writings on Ottoman tents and Ottoman silks and velvets have established her reputation as one of Turkey’s foremost authorities on Ottoman art. She has now amassed a wide range of examples to illustrate the vast subject of Turkish imperial gardens.
Looking through its 350 or so pages, the reader is overwhelmed by one beautiful illustration after another: guildsmen with giant paper tulips; members of the florists’ guild carrying models of gardens, some on stretchers and some pulled along on platforms; paper gardens; pressed flower albums; the ‘Gaznevi Album’ of rare flowers in coloured paper and sequins; and the exquisite miniatures of the Nuruosmaniye Library, to name but a few.
There are many miniatures depicting activities in gardens, foreign artists’ views, rare maps and old photographs. Among these are interspersed Ottoman silks, embroidery, jewellery, ceramics, tiles, incense burners and clocks – all decorated with flowers grown by the Ottomans. Many of these illustrations have never been published before.
With such a mouth-watering range of colour images supported by a relatively small amount of text, I wonder at whom this book is aimed. Is it for those interested in Ottoman decorative art or for scholars interested in Turkish plants and gardens? One can imagine the editor hoping to appeal to as many interests as possible. But I suggest the coffee table is where this book will be seen most often.
Ottoman plants, Ottoman gardens and Ottoman objects decorated with flowers could easily have been the subjects of three separate books. The author herself acknowledges that “the material I have gathered on the subject of flowers turned out to be so vast that giving it the same weight as I have to gardens would have made this book impossibly big”.
The history of gardens and plants in Turkey is a relatively new topic of research. If the intention was to discuss the development of gardens enjoyed by the sultans over a period of 500 years, the subject matter could have been arranged in historical order, with plans and illustrations, and included some analysis of the influence of gardens on Ottoman art. To this end, a chronological list of sultans, some translations into English and the dating of illustrations would be useful.