Istanbul (1918) by Ahmet Ziya Akbulut (Turkish, 1869-1938)Sakıp Sabancı Museum
After graduating from the Military Academy in 1887, Ahmet Ziya worked in the academy art studio until 1894, and was later appointed as art teacher at Kuleli Military High School. From 1914, he spent his life teaching mathematics and perspective at the School of Fine Arts.
His military art education focussed on Western oil painting, and the accurate depiction of landscapes and architecture - useful for military planning. However his naturalistic paintings hide an inconvenient truth.
At the time of painting, in 1918, the Ottoman Empire was nearly 500 years old and had struggled to reform its politics, economy, and military. In the past ten years it had seen an explosion of wars, rebellions, and nationalist uprisings.
By the end of that year, the empire had been soundly defeated in the First World War, and the allied powers had begun partitioning the sprawling empire into a series of European colonies.
But Ziya Akbulut suggests none of this turmoil in his picture of a quiet, sunny morning on the outskirts of Istanbul
With not a cloud in the sky, the bright sun casts complex shadows over the buildings and trees…
…a few men in traditional Ottoman dress gather around a pump, while a donkey waits to be laden with goods…
…and in the distance, the eye-catching, needle-sharp spire of a minaret attracts the attention of worshippers.
To the left is a little detail, a telegraph pole strung with cables, that hints towards the empire's modernisation. Even here, in the backstreets of a crumbling empire, we're connected to the modern world.
You wouldn't know it was all about to end…