Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 – 24 February 1910) was an Ottoman statesman, intellectual, art expert and also a prominent and pioneering Turkish painter. He was also an accomplished archaeologist, and is considered as the pioneer of the museum curator's profession in Turkey. He was the founder of Istanbul Archaeology Museums and of İstanbul Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi in Turkish), known today as the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.
The Tortoise Trainer
The painting expresses a sarcastic innuendo on the painter's own view of his style of work compared to those of his collaborators and apprentices, and is also a reference to the historical fact of tortoises having been employed for illuminative and decorative purposes, by placing candles on the shell, in evening outings during the Tulip Era in the early 18th century. The painting was acquired by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation and is currently on display at the Pera Museum in İstanbul, which was established by this foundation.
Osman Hamdi exhibited three paintings at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. None seem to have survived today, but their titles were Repose of the Gypsies, Black Sea Soldier Lying in Wait, and Death of the Soldier. An important step in his career was his assignment as the director of the Imperial Museum (Müze-i Hümayun) in 1881. He used his position as museum director to develop the museum and rewrite the antiquities laws and to create nationally sponsored archaeological expeditions. In 1882, he instituted and became director of the Academy of Fine Arts, which provided Ottomans with training in aesthetics and artistic techniques without leaving the empire. In 1884, he oversaw the promulgation of a Regulation prohibiting historical artifacts from being smuggled abroad (Asar-ı Atîka Nizamnamesi), a giant step in constituting a legal framework of preservation of the antiquities. Representatives or middlemen of 19th century European Powers routinely smuggled artifacts with historical value from within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire (which then comprised the geographies of ancient Greek and Mesopotamian civilizations, among others), often resorting to shadily obtained licenses or bribes, to enrich museums in European capitals.
He conducted the first scientific based archaeological researches done by a Turkish team. His digs included sites as varied as the Commagene tomb-sanctuary in Nemrut Dağı in southeastern Anatolia (a top tourist's venue in Turkey and a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, within the Adıyaman Province), the Hekate sanctuary in Lagina in southwestern Anatolia (also much visited, and within the Muğla Province today), and Sidon in Lebanon. The sarcophagi he discovered in Sidon (including the one known as the Alexander Sarcophagus, although this sarcophagus is thought to contain the remains of a Persian noble who was also the governor of Babylon. ]]) are considered among the worldwide jewels of archaeological findings. To lodge these, he started building what is today the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in 1881. The museum officially opened in 1891 under his directorship.
Throughout his professional career as museum and academy director, Osman Hamdi continued to paint in the style of his teachers, Gérôme and Boulanger.