Hamdi Bey, Osman (1842–1910) By Shaw, Wendy
Osman Hamdi was the founding director of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts (later renamed the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts, today part of the Mimar Sinan University). He was also the most powerful director of the Imperial Museum (today the Istanbul Archaeology Museum), an important arts legislator, the first Ottoman archaeologist, and one of the most skilful and prolific painters of the Ottoman era. Osman Hamdi’s legacy persists in his numerous small-scale portraits of his cosmopolitan family and large-scale allegorical paintings that reflect on the relationship between Ottoman identity and European Orientalist style. Often staging himself and his family members in anachronistic dress and in unlikely settings drawn from examples of early Ottoman architecture, his works offer an image of the Ottoman past replete with dignity and agency that contradicts Orientalist tropes such as laziness, violence, or lasciviousness. The complex juxtaposition of figures and objects often suggests a sharp sense of irony concerning the relationship between modernity and the past as staged through historicism offered both through the museum and through the Orientalist painting tradition. His most famous paintings include The Man with the Tortoises (1906; also known as The Tortoise Trainer) and The Sharp Side of the Sword (1908; also known as The Weapons Merchant).