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Profusion That Calls for Pruning

A Garden for the Sultan
by Nurhan Atasoy

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.

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 29
  • Solar Power

    Red peppers, chillies, maize and sunflowers set the Mediterranean ablaze with their pungent flavours and fiery colours. But of all the Aztecs’ gifts, it is the tomato, above all, that tastes of the sun

  • The Ottoman Pleasure Garden

    The Ottomans were not only passionate about flowers. They turned the enjoyment of gardens into an art form. John Carswell leafs through a lavish volume which unlocks the gate to the pleasure grounds of Istanbul’s imperial palaces.
    SPECIAL OFFER: order three beautiful garden-themed issues, including this one, for only £60. List price £102

  • Alchemy on a Plate

    Sold in 2003 for record prices, these magical daguerrotype plates of Istanbul in the 1840s are the earliest known photographic images of the city. They are the work of Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, an obsessive Frenchman with a passion for Islamic architecture. By Elizabeth Meath Baker.

  • Mary’s House

    In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the Aegean coast of Turkey witnessed three of the greatest archaeological finds of all time. The discovery of Ephesus and Troy made international headlines overnight. But the third – an unassuming stone house in an isolated forest – was immediately enveloped in secrecy. By Donald Carroll

  • City of Shadows

    Under the Ottomans, Kirkuk’s ancient citadel was the heart of a thriving cosmopolitan city. But politics and oil have reduced it to a deserted ruin. Owen Matthews, who has been covering northern Iraq for several years, visited Kirkuk at the end of the recent war. Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson

  • Wild Beauties of the Deep South

    Martyn Rix sidesteps the concrete condos of the Turkish Riviera to go searching for native flowers.
    SPECIAL OFFER: order five beautiful garden-themed issues, including this one, for only £80. List price £122

  • The House on the Hill

    Dipping into a Mediterranean idyll, Stephen and Nina Solarz have built a haven high above the harbour of Kalkan. Andrew Finkel paid them a visit. Photographs by James Mortimer

  • Connoisseur 29

    A small and perfectly formed exhibition of Iznik pottery held in Qatar has given birth to a fittingly exquisite catalogue

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Issue 29, 2003 Ottoman Gardens
£12.00 / $15.50 / 512.95 TL
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