Unobvious attractions of Istanbul: Pera Museum and “Turtle Trainer”

Unobvious attractions of Istanbul: Pera Museum and “Turtle Trainer”

Today we’ll take a look at an interesting Istanbul museum that will definitely appeal to lovers of Orientalism.

This is the private Pera Museum, located next to the Istiklal pedestrian street, in the building of the former Bristol Hotel, built in 1893. The name of the museum is associated with the area in which it is located – together with Istiklal Street, this entire area was called Pera at the beginning of the last century.

The hotel building was renovated in 2003 – 2005, it was rebuilt for the needs of the museum. The upper floors of the five-story building today house temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. There is an art deco style café on the ground floor.

In the permanent exhibition you can see paintings by Eastern artists of the 17th – 19th centuries, a collection of weights and measures from Anatolia, and a collection of tiles and ceramics from the city of Kutahya. One room is dedicated to an exhibition of old photographs of Istanbul, which displays about 7,000 artistic photographs.

But the most important thing worth going to this museum for is the work of the outstanding artist, archaeologist and founder of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum Osman Hamdi Bey.

This is where the most famous Turkish painting, “Turtle Trainer,” is located. It is also the most expensive painting in Turkey, costing $3.5 million. It was because of her that I came here.

Despite the apparent strangeness, the plot is quite easy to read. The artist makes a satirical analogy, comparing attempts to train clumsy and slow turtles with the slow and ineffective attempts to reform the Ottoman Empire.

The painting depicts an elderly man wearing a traditional Ottoman religious headdress, which predates the fez, and traditional dress from the Tanzimat reforms (mid-19th century). He stands at the window with a nai musical instrument, with which he unsuccessfully tries to train the turtles crawling at his feet. The painting was created during the crisis preceding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The reforms of Sultan Abdul Hamid II were ineffective and caused further upheaval.

The painting was painted in 1906 and 1907 in two versions. If you place them side by side, you can make riddles in the spirit of “find 10 differences.” There are, however, three main differences: the later painting shows six turtles instead of five, there is a jug and a sign on the wall with an inscription in Arabic. The Pera Museum displays an earlier version, and a later version was sold in 2004 to a private collection.

Osman Hamdi Bey himself is a famous person in Turkey. He created the most famous museum in the country – the Archaeological Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), which I already told you about. It was also he who founded the School of Fine Arts (Mekteb-i Sanayi-i Nefise-i Şahane) in 1882, thereby opening Turkish art to the world community. Today this school is Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in Istanbul.

Thanks to Osman Hamdi Bey, portraits and sculptural figures of people appeared in Turkey; he painted everyone – family members, people he met. The portraits were always framed by a background theme – architecture, design elements, household items of the Ottoman era.

The Pera Museum has four more paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey, including “Girl in a Pink Hat” (1904) and “Two Musicians” (1880). Surprisingly, they turned out to be small – about the size of a landscape sheet. Especially compared to the large, almost tall “Tamer”.

On the third floor there is a unique exhibition of weights and measures – there is no analogue to such a collection anywhere in the world. The collection includes 9,000 exhibits dating back to different periods of history. Among the items are various types of scales and measuring instruments and the first mechanisms that were used to calculate mass, length and volume. Here you can see the tools used by architects, sailors, pharmacists, merchants and jewelers.

The photographic exhibition at the museum boasts 7,000 works introducing the history and life of the inhabitants of Turkey in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the photographs were taken by famous photographers: Pascal Seba, Robertson, Hoyer, Ali Sami Akozer, while others were taken by amateurs.

The museum often hosts art master classes, lessons in modeling and pottery. There are several cinema halls where films of different genres are shown, but most often – black and white films in the spirit of Italian neorealism, short films, documentaries, arthouse and experimental cinema.

Helpful tip: every Wednesday students can enter the museum for free, and every Friday from 18:00 to 22:00 anyone can see the collections for free.

Useful links for Istanbul travel