The Image as Commodity: The Commercial Market for Single-Folio Paintings in Ottoman Istanbul, 17th–18th C.

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


In the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, for most of the sixteenth century, only royalty and close companions of the sultan enjoyed the experience of perusing an album, the premier form of preserving and viewing single-folio works on paper. Yet in the last few decades of the century, the first surviving cases of commercial albums reveal that the practice had moved beyond the palace, attracting both wealthy Ottoman urbanites and European travelers alike. This dissertation delves into the history of the art market from the production to the consumption of loose-leaf paintings in numerous compilation formats. Although scholarship on Istanbul’s early modern art market and single-folio paintings has often centered on analyses of individual manuscripts, such as costume albums, this study aims to contextualize these single-folio paintings as part of a wider network of urban production. In this network, models and designs circulated between artists of numerous social groups and specialties, as well as through foreign import. The study further refocuses attention on codicology in order to illustrate how the trappings of a collection could profoundly impact the reception of the works within it and reveal precious detail about the backgrounds of the owners, many of whom remain anonymous today.
The dissertation begins by setting the stage for the emergence of the market for single-folio paintings by analyzing the antecedents to the commercial album through Ottoman court albums, portraits, and the works of unofficial court artists who lived in the city. It then turns to European genres such as costume books and alba amicorum (friendship albums), before turning to the first commercial album, which fuses features from the aforementioned areas. Chapter Two assesses production techniques, emphasizing the mobility of model forms, before turning to artists’ multi-professional backgrounds. The next two chapters delve into the collecting practices of the two main consumer groups. Chapter Three follows the development of costume albums primarily collected by European travelers over the seventeenth century as objects of novelty crafted from a commonplace corpus of models. It tracks the expansion of the model corpus, shifts in binding and mounting practices, and the relationships between albums (as well as their identified forgeries).

Chapter Four offers a history of compilation among urbanite Ottomans of a literati persuasion over the seventeenth century as a story of taste-making on the page. As the practice grew, artists began offering a wider range of works to suit multiple price points of paintings and bindings among their consumers. Chapter Five continues to follow Ottoman compilers into the eighteenth century after the court’s return to Istanbul in 1703, which coincided with a significant increase in album-making. This period brought about the rise of specialized painting collections. The market also began to engage with its past as later commercial albums provided a wider chronological range of paintings from numerous traditions, which included refurbished and creatively over-painted works. Rather than Westernization, these albums indicate a global outlook that reflected mercantile networks of the time. The last two chapters delve into the case of an unstudied trilogy of albums at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that exemplifies these later trends. Together, they offer a hypothesis for the background of the owner while situating the albums in the local and transregional contexts that created this cosmopolitan work.

Publisher's Version