The results of the scientific analysis and conservation of Osman Hamdi Bey's paintings from the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Collection

Osman Hamdi Bey (undated) by UnknownSakıp Sabancı Museum

Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings which are part of the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s Collection as well as the findings regarding the techniques employed by the artist in these paintings are presented to art lovers with the 'Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision' exhibition.

Osman Hamdi Bey (undated) by UnknownSakıp Sabancı Museum

The exhibition is based on the results of the ‘Scientific Analyses and Conservation of Osman Hamdi Bey’s Paintings’ project which was completed in two years, and aims to inform the guests about the artist’s paint application techniques, the materials he used and the restoration work the paintings have undergone. The stages of the conservation and scientific analysis work are presented in their sequence thereby giving clues as to how the details, which cannot be seen with the naked eye in the works of this artist who has a prominent place in Turkish art history, can contribute to his art’s interpretation.

X-Ray Imaging Technique (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum


Photographs obtained with the X-ray imaging technique provide information about the structure under the painting’s surface and the paint content, as well as clues to the artist’s technique, while at the same time determining the physical condition of the painting. They show how the metals within the pigment are dispersed, thus enabling us to trace the artist’s brushstrokes on the canvas.

Cross section of the paint sample (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum


Pigment analysis consists of the methods required to obtain information regarding the materials and the techniques used by the artist and to date the painting.

Canvas sample from painting codeSakıp Sabancı Museum


The canvas material is the natural polymer known as cellulose which is the main constituent of linen and cotton plant cells. Cellulose consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms aligned in different combinations, and clues about the type of plant the canvas is made from, where it has been cultivated and in which season can be derived with the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) method.

Portrait of Naile Hanım (Unknown) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum


Marie Palyart, Osman Hamdi Bey’s second wife acquired the name Naile after her marriage. Very little is known about her other than that she was born in France in 1863 and that her mother Germaine Palyart also lived in Istanbul. Osman Hamdi Bey and Naile Hanım had three children, namely Leyla (1880-1950), Edhem (1882-1957) and Nazlı (1893-1958). She continued to live in Istanbul after her husband’s death in 1910, went to live in Paris with her daughter Nazlı in 1930s, returned to Istanbul with the outbreak of World War II and died on 21 September 1943.

Osman Hamdi Bey has frequently painted portraits of family members. The most common of these are those of Naile Hanım. The outlines of these paintings depicting her from the right or left profile, from the front or back, in different attire and at different ages are similar. 'The Portrait of Naile Hanım' at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Collection is distinguished by the gold paint used around the figure. The figure is portrayed from the left profile and the energetic brushstrokes on her attire and black headcover contrast with the immobile expression on her face.

The gold color around the portrait has always been related to holy personalities in Islamic art, Europe of the Middle Ages, early Renaissance and even as far back as Ancient Egypt. Osman Hamdi Bey who is among the first Turkish artists to depict women on canvas paintings used the gold background applied in Byzantine icons to stress the divinity of the figure in her wife Naile Hanım’s portrait.

The Portrait of Naile Hanım (undated)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

X-ray analysis has shown that this painting underwent restoration before its acquisition by Sakıp Sabancı Museum. Lead white was applied with hard and concentrated brushstrokes at the bottom layer, like the other paintings.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman analyses of cross sections of samples taken from the painting indicate that the complexion of the figure is composed of lead white, chrome yellow and vermilion pigments, while carbon black, earth and Prussian blue pigments are used for her coat.

Kokona Despina (1906) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum


The artist has depicted old Despina with her gray hair partly covered by a black scarf tightly wound around her head and with its laced end hanging, her blouse of which three buttons are visible and her jacket with a fur collar. Her face has a deep expression reflecting all traces of time.

One of Osman Hamdi Bey’s techniques involved using photographs as models. There are a few portrait photographs of his wife Naile, which were clearly taken for this purpose. He also used his or his model’s photographs taken in the attire required for the figures in his paintings. We also know that the Ottoman and Islamic architectural structures and their details frequently seen in Osman Hamdi Bey’s canvases were painted on the basis of photographs. We do not know whether 'Kokona Despina' was painted with the same technique, but the detailed depiction of this plain painting suggests that this might have been the case.

Osman Hamdi Bey has painted portraits as well as his characteristic orientalist pictures. Most of these are portraits of his family members or people close to him. The artist has added the name of the portrait’s owner and where it was painted (Eskihisar) to the upper left corner of this painting which bears the artist’s signature and the date 1906.

During those years Moslems called Christian women “kokona” and Despina was a maid at Osman Hamdi Bey’s residence. The artist’s photographs and the date and place information he wrote on his canvases indicate that he frequently resided at the Eskihisar village of Gebze from 1890s on. This house is now open to public as Osman Hamdi Bey House and Museum. The artist’s studio where he painted is in the garden of the house surrounded with roses. His body also lies in the cemetery just behind the same house, in accordance with his will.

Kokona Despina (undated)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The X-ray analysis of the painting indicates that the figure, which may have been modeled from a photograph prior to application, was not sketched over and over. The painting is in good condition, has not suffered any damages and has not undergone restoration.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Lead white, used in all paintings at the bottom
of all paint layers, covering the canvas is seen
in all pigment samples taken from this painting.
Vermilion and earth pigments, typical of Osman
Hamdi Bey’s palette are also found in this painting.

Hodja Reading The Koran (undated) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum


Like many of his later paintings, Osman Hamdi Bey depicted the interior of a religious building in his 'Hodja Reading the Koran'. The interior of Bursa’s Yeşil Cami (Green Mosque) is shown with glass oil lamps, Koran cases and calligraphic panels, among which is a male figure clad in a yellow gown and headgear sitting at his lectern at the mosque’s left lodge.

On the marble balustrade separating the lodge hang three oil lamps, one brass and of Mamluk origin, two glass and of Venetian make. On the side table right behind the hodja is a case made of mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and wood. On the lower shelf of the side table and on the floor there are books scattered, three of which have inscriptions in Ottoman script on their back. These inscriptions bringing to mind Osman Hamdi Bey’s secret signatures are among the half completed elements of this unfinished painting.

The painting which shows the interior of Ottoman mosques decorated with tiles also provides us examples of the use of calligraphy in architecture. The calligraphic panel hanging over the 'sülüs' and 'kûfî' calligraphy belt running midst the tiles covering the walls bear witness to Islamic art’s calligraphy.

The calligraphic panel in question is an element that can be seen in the artist’s other paintings as well, and one of these is in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Collection.

In the depicted panel, the Arabic expressions meaning ‘He is compassionate and forgiving’ in black ink and ‘I seek refuge in God’s mercy’ in yellow ink are interlinked. Under the panel, on the mosque’s tile belt is an inscription meaning ‘if the mountains and the sky were torn apart.

Hodja Reading The Koran (undated)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The first thing one notices in the painting’s X-ray pictures is the traces of the restoration it has undergone before its acquisition by Sakıp Sabancı Museum. The black spot at the centre where the lectern and the yellow gown intersect cannot be seen with the naked eye but is clearly visible in the X-ray pictures and attests to previous fallen bits of paint.

Hodja Reading The Koran (undated) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum

The hard and concentrated brushstrokes at the lower layers of the painting which have been revealed by the X-ray pictures differ from the softness seen at the topmost layer of paint. The unfinished parts of the painting (the gown and hands of the hodja) can also be clearly seen. In this part, the artist’s technique is visible to the naked eye as well as the sparse yellow color of the man’s gown allows us to see the first charcoal sketches.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Analyses revealed that in this painting Osman
Hamdi Bey added cobalt blue to ultramarine pigment to obtain a more opaque color, perhaps to add a deeper and greener hue to the tiles.

The Petitioner (undated) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum


This is one of Osman Hamdi Bey’s unsigned and undated paintings. The outer wall of an old Ottoman building, its window with a pediment of tiles and geometric decorations with iron lattice, a shade fixed to the lattice and wall, and two women dictating a letter to the petitioner sitting under the shade are depicted. The panel in the painting which is not in place today is shown in Léon Parvillée’s book 'Architecture et Décoration Turques' (1874).

It is a piece from the outer window pediment of Prince Mustafa’s Tomb within the Muradiye complex in Bursa. Clearly, Osman Hamdi Bey knew the building in Bursa well and had Parvillée’s book in his library. Tile is a decorative element Osman Hamdi Bey frequently used especially in his later paintings. There are samples of Iznik tiles in some of his paintings and borders decorated with flowers or tiles decorated with calligraphy in others. Tiles can also be seen in the decorations of the religious buildings he has depicted.

Most of the women Osman Hamdi Bey frequently depicted belong to the higher income group as can be seen from their colorful and laced dresses which partly show their body contours reflecting the European fashion of the period. However, the two female figures in the 'Petitioner', one in blue and the other in black, are the ones closest to commoners compared to others in his paintings.

The petitioner after whom the painting is named is, as is frequently the case in Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings, sitting on a Persian rug on a low wooden cot with thin legs, gazing at the sheet in his hand, with his writing box in front of him. He has a loose long-sleeved caftan over his yellow gown. There is a medal pattern ornamented with rather big flowers in the caftan’s fabric. The feet and gown of the petitioner are unfinished, like the 'Hodja Reading the Koran' painting. We also see two of the stray dogs frequently seen in the streets of the 19th century Istanbul, but very rarely in Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings.

The Petitioner (undated)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The X-ray photographs show that lead white pigment was used in the bottom layer of the painting, just like the other paintings. It can be seen that the artist applied the paint which contained this pigment with hard and concentrated brushstrokes. This free brushstroke which is in contrast with the calm expressionism on the painting’s surface can be seen in his other paintings as well, giving information about the characteristics of the artist’s technique.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Analyses of paint samples from different parts of the painting submit almost the same results with the pigment analyses of other paintings: lead white, vermilion, synthetic ultramarine, Naples yellow were used in this painting too. The chrome yellow seen in this painting was a golden yellow shade invented in 1797 and widely used by Impressionists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir at the time of the painting.

Flowers In A Vase (undated) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum


Osman Hamdi Bey’s 'Flowers in a Vase' painting which bears his signature and the date 1876 is his single known still life. The Chinese porcelain vase decorated with peony and peacock patterns sitting on a partly visible wooden table and with dry ears of grain constitutes the painting’s center.

To the right of the vase, there is a blue cap with a red tassel, standing against a stack of books on a piece of fabric partly hanging down the table. To the left of the vase there are a few ears of grain and a shallow copper vessel with a narrow beak of Mamluk origin.

A striking feature is the Uşak carpet hanging from upper left side of the painting. Depicting oriental carpets in paintings became popular in Europe in the 14th century. These paintings are a valuable source for Middle Eastern carpet researchers.

Osman Hamdi Bey also uses carpets frequently in his paintings. Although his use generally differs from European artists, the composition in the 'Flowers in a Vase' is similar to their paintings. Osman Hamdi Bey generally depicts carpets in his paintings of the interior and sometimes in compositions of outer spaces. There are not different carpet types in his paintings, the artist has always depicted the same group of carpets from his own collection. The carpet in this painting though, is not one of them and is not seen in any other of his paintings.

Flowers In A Vase (1876)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The X-ray photographs show that the painting is in good condition. Other than minor loss of paint at the edges, the painting has suffered no real damage. It has not undergone any restoration either.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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In contrast to the other paintings under study, natural rather than synthetic ultramarine pigment was used in 'Flowers in a Vase'. The natural ultramarine is derived by grinding the lapis lazuli stone which is an extremely rare mineral found only in Afghanistan.

The Mosque (undated) by Osman Hamdi BeySakıp Sabancı Museum

The Mosque

Osman Hamdi Bey has also painted a few landscapes, dated to 1870s. One of these is 'The Mosque'. A typical Eastern small street is surrounded on both sides by buildings whose façades with windows and bay windows are partly seen. In the background is a minaret under the blue sky and at the center are the shopkeepers and their customers. One of the figures on the street is a young woman in a yellow dress, sitting with her back to the mosque’s wall and with a pot full of the merchandise she is selling in front. The silver bracelets on her left wrist attract attention due to their luster achieved with the application of white paint.

Another salesman is sitting behind wooden shades in his shop. In the shaded part of the painting an old man is sitting on a stool and a woman on the ground. The profile of a black sherbet seller with a pannier on his back is half in the shadows. Osman Hamdi Bey returned to Istanbul from Paris in 1868 and was sent to Baghdad in 1869 as the Provincial Director of Foreign Affairs under Midhat Pasha where he would live for two years. His landscapes depict prominent buildings of Baghdad and it can be argued that 'The Mosque' also depicts a scenery from the same city.

The Mosque (undated)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The X-ray photographs show that the brushstrokes of the blue sky end towards the minaret with a flourish, indicating that the ground of the painting was added later whereas research on the artist’s other canvases has shown that he paints the ground first and adds other elements later.

X-ray analysis has revealed that the green-brown part at the bottom of the painting also bearing the artist’s signature was completely damaged in the past. The fact that the canvas was not destroyed indicates that the damage was caused by a flood which would harm only the paint rather than a fire or insect which would destroy the texture totally. The damaged part was restored before the painting was acquired by Sakıp Sabancı Museum. The patterns of the painting continue at the edges of the canvas, indicating that the original painting was larger and was later cut at the edges and put in a narrower casing.

Cross section of the paint sample, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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Raman spectra, 2018, From the collection of: Sakıp Sabancı Museum
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In the painting Prussian blue, lead white, emerald green and vermilion were used.
The analysis of the undamaged parts of the painting shows that all pigments other than the emerald green are in conformity with the other paintings.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum


'Scientific Analyses and Conservation of Osman Hamdi Bey’s Paintings’ project revealed significant information on how the artist worked. The analyses conducted throughout the project yielded detailed data regarding the artist’s paint application techniques and presented new data on the condition of the paintings in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Collection.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The restoration work prior to Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s acquisition of the paintings
was brought to light. It was observed that the natural aging process of the paintings had resulted in cracks and fallen bits of paint as well as yellowing of the varnishes. The cleaning, maintenance and conservation of the paintings were completed within the project’s context.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Photographs of the paintings taken with X-ray imaging method revealed details not visible to the naked eye. It was seen that under the smooth structure of the surface, the artist used free brushstrokes. It was also seen that he started with detailed charcoal drawings of figures and spaces before applying paint on the canvas.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The pigment analysis of Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings showed that there were various structures regarding the artist’s paint application methods. The results of the analysis revealed that the artist applied ceruse to obtain a white surface as a base for his paintings. The pigments he most frequently used were lead white, vermilion, ultramarine, chrome yellow, Naples yellow, cobalt blue and Prussian blue. The color variations in his paintings arose from the varying proportions of different pigments.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond VisionSakıp Sabancı Museum

The Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and the principal component analysis (PCA) methods revealed the characteristics of the canvases used by the artist. With the single exception of 'The Mosque', canvases of all the paintings in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum Collection had been obtained from the same source and had been manufactured from high quality linen which enabled the artist to exercise his characteristic meticulousness in depicting details.

Osman Hamdi Bey Beyond Vision (2018)Sakıp Sabancı Museum

The project provided the initial resources for the database on the materials and techniques employed in Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings, thus constituting a starting point for future projects. The data obtained can also form the basis of future conservation work.

Credits: Story

Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Filiz Kuvvetli - Danish Museums Conservation Center, Painting and Contemporary Art Conservator
Hüma Arslaner - SSM Painting Collection Manager
Nurçin Kural Özgörüş - SSM Conservation Laboratory Manager
Osman Serhat Karaman - Manager of digitalSSM Archive and Research Space

In Collaboration

Sabancı University Nanotechnology Research and Application Center; Faculty Member Mehmet Ali Gülgün, Researcher Meltem Sezen, Researcher Feray Bakan

Koç University Surface Science and Technology Center; Researcher Gülsu Şimşek

Istanbul Technical University Organic Chemistry Laboratory; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Cüneyt Ünlü

The Getty Conservation Institute; Art Conservation Scientist Lynn Lee

Boğaziçi University; Prof. Dr. Edhem Eldem

Project Supporter; Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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