Anatolia and the Caucasus, 1800–1900 A.D.

  • Scissors
  • Rug
  • Dragon Carpet
  • Banner
  • Towel end
  • Dagger (Kindjal) with Sheath
  • Quran manuscript
  • Saber with Scabbard


1800 A.D.

1825 A.D.

Ottoman empire, 1299–1922
Armenia and Azerbaijan: vast territories conquered by Russia, in 1813 and 1828
Georgia: Russian protectorate, 1783–1801, annexed by Russia in 1801

1825 A.D.

1850 A.D.

Ottoman empire, 1299–1922
Armenia and Azerbaijan: vast territories conquered by Russia, in 1813 and 1828

1850 A.D.

1875 A.D.

Ottoman empire, 1299–1922
Armenia and Azerbaijan: vast territories conquered by Russia, in 1813 and 1828

1875 A.D.

1900 A.D.

Ottoman empire, 1299–1922
Armenia and Azerbaijan: vast territories conquered by Russia, in 1813 and 1828


Napoleon’s invasion of the Ottoman province of Egypt in 1798 tips the balance of power in Europe’s favor. Anticipating the fall of the empire, Europe becomes preoccupied with the “Eastern Question” (the division of the Ottoman empire after its collapse) and its role as protector of the empire’s Christian subjects. The Ottoman sultans of the period spend much time implementing military, fiscal, and administrative reforms as a means of protecting their borders against further foreign encroachment. Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–39) continues the reforms begun by his predecessor Selim III (r. 1789–1807) with the aim of curbing provincial autonomy, centralizing political rule, and modernizing the military and administrative apparatus. During Mahmud’s reign, Western music, the piano, popular bands, orchestras, and theater—all based on European models—first make their appearance in Turkey. Mahmud’s reforms are cut short by European intervention in the Greek struggle for independence.

The Tanzimat period (1839–76) witnesses reforms centered around the concept of justice and equality before the law for all Ottoman citizens. They constitute the first far-reaching and coherent program of adopting European institutions as models. One of their main objectives is the founding of secondary professional schools with European curricula. The new educated elite introduce European literary forms as well as Western-style painting and architecture. The Tanzimat reforms culminate in the constitution and parliament of 1876, but the 1877–78 war with Russia interrupts the process and results in the Treaty of Berlin, under which the Ottomans lose vast territories in Europe. This prompts Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) to abandon further liberalization in favor of autocratic rule. His opponents, known as the Young Turks, advocate Ottoman nationalism and Pan-Turkism, which stress cultural and linguistic unity. The Hamdian despotism is ended by the Young Turk Revolution (1908–9), whereby a parliamentary government is instituted generating a fervent sense of Turkish nationalism. The emergence of a new political, social, and cultural identity also leads to the development of new trends in art and architecture.

Western-style military, scientific, and technological reforms lead to the introduction of Western-style painting. This period witnesses a transition from a traditional Turko-Islamic pictorial tradition of manuscript illustration to the Western practice of easel painting. Early nineteenth-century mural paintings consist primarily of landscapes, panoramas of Istanbul, and still-life compositions. Examples of these are found in the rooms of the Topkapi Palace as well as in the mansions of the wealthy elite. Receiving training as a by-product of military reform, painters of this period are trained in either the empire’s prominent military and naval schools or the Darüşşafaka (pious foundations that prepare orphans for civil careers). This gives rise to a new kind of painter, the “soldier painter.” Turkish students are also sent to Europe, particularly France, to study painting and engraving. Several are trained under renowned French artists such as Gustave Boulanger and Jean-Léon Gérôme.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, oil painting gains popularity, accompanied by a growing trend toward Westernization in art. Painters increasingly use printed images and photographs as models and, by the late 1860s, many foreign painters are employed by the Ottoman court. From 1851 onward, the Ottomans erect pavilions and display artifacts at many of the world’s fairs. In the last quarter of the century, new schools such as the Academy of Fine Arts (Mekteb-i Sanayi-i Nefise) in Istanbul are modeled on the French École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Staffed primarily by foreign instructors, these schools become centers for the dissemination of French taste in art and architecture. Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861–76), a keen amateur painter, encourages the development of Western art, hiring European artists to execute large paintings similar to the ones seen on his state visits to Europe. The art of calligraphy maintains a level of excellence; religious and secular texts are copied in a variety of innovative scripts and elaborately illuminated during this period. The traditional textile arts, particularly embroidery, continue to flourish. European—especially British—infatuation with Ottoman embroidery fuels the growth of this art form, examples of which are included in the Ottoman displays at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Rule of the Caucasus in the early nineteenth century is divided among the Ottomans, Qajars, and Russian Romanoffs, but large parts are fully absorbed into the Russian empire as it expands into Muslim territory on either side of the Caspian Sea. Two wars fought between the Russians and the Persians, in 1805–13 and 1826–28, and a third war in 1877–78 against the Ottomans, result in the transfer of large parts of present-day Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan to Russian control. Annexation to Russia has negative effects on Georgian life. Russians are encouraged to settle in Georgian cities. The local language is eliminated from administrative documents and replaced by Russian in literature and schools. The independent Georgian Church is abolished and religious authority assumed by Russian Orthodox bishops. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the “Armenian Question” becomes the focus of Ottoman attention, and during the reign of Abdülhamid, the deportation of Armenians becomes a common phenomenon. Thus, at least initially, Russia’s presence is welcomed, for it offers protection from the Ottomans and Persians. The repressive nature of Russian imperial rule, however, is eventually resented. After 1845, when the Russians implement more enlightened policies, emancipation movements begin to develop. Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani intellectuals espouse nationalism and socialism. One of the most notable movements in the region occurs in Dagestan. Led by Imam Shamil (r. 1834–59), a Naqshbandi shaikh, this movement advocates close adherence to the shari‘a in the Caucasus and resistance to Russian might. By the turn of the twentieth century, revolutionary oppositions gain support in Tbilisi and Baku. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are administered as federations until 1936, when they are transformed into republics of the Soviet Union.

Carpets, textiles, jewelry, and metalwork best represent the arts of the region during this period. During the early nineteenth century, when most of the Caucasus is still under Persian rule, a strong Persian element is seen in painting and architecture. Palaces in Armenia and Georgia follow the Qajar model and are adorned with lifesize portraits in oil in the Qajar style. After the second Russo-Persian War, in the beginning of the second quarter of the century, Armenian liberation movements emerge which have a significant impact on the development of art and literature. Armenian and Georgian artists such as Ivan Aivazovsky (1817–1900) and Akop Ovnatanian (1806–1881/84) receive training in European and Russian schools. Known as a gifted painter of seascapes, Aivazovsky gains international fame at the age of twenty-five.

Fine carpets continue to be woven throughout the Caucasus; each region weaves a distinctive pattern. Rug weaving is a common occupation of Armenian village women. Carpets are included as part of a bride’s dowry and are often woven by the bride herself. They are also used in burial rituals. However, rug aesthetics and production undergo considerable change in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are increasingly sold as commodities and thus produced in great quantities following formulaic designs. The same is true of other parts of the Caucasus, such as Azerbaijan. An abundance of fine laces and embroidered textiles are also produced in Armenia during this period and used to decorate the interior of houses on special occasions, particularly weddings and religious celebrations. As with the carpets, these are exclusively made by women and serve as a means of subsistence for them in hard times. The embroidered textiles of Dagestan referred to as Kaitag continue to be produced throughout the nineteenth century and are used in rituals associated with birth, marriage, and death.

Key Events

  • 1789–1807

    After losses to the Russians in the Crimea and Napoleon in Egypt, Sultan Selim III launches a reform program called the Nizam-i Cedid (The New Order), forming a new French-style army and solidifying contacts with Europe by establishing permanent embassies there. Conservatives, however, oppose the changes and depose Selim in 1807.

  • 1801

    Russia formally annexes eastern Georgia, which had been established as a Russian protectorate through the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783. In the second half of the century, western Georgia (Tbilisi and Kutaisi) meet the same fate. The Georgian provinces are incorporated into Transcaucasia, where the government is in the hands of the viceroy designated by the czar. He claims the western part in 1804 and then begins to move into Azerbaijan and Armenia, fighting two wars with the Qajars of Iran. These disputes are settled with the 1828 Treaty of Turkmanchay, which grants control of most of the Caucasus to the Russian Romanoffs. In the new Russian lands, traditional feudal society is dismantled and local dynasties are toppled. The Georgian Orthodox Church also loses its autonomy, and a process of Russification is initiated in the second half of the century.

  • 1804–33

    With Russian backing, rebel armies in the Balkans capture many cities to form a miniature Serbian province. The Ottomans regain control of their provinces in 1813, but a second revolt in 1815–17 and a Russian-supported war in 1828–29 result in Serbia being named an independent principality in 1833.

  • 1808–39

    Selim’s successor Mahmud II again attempts reform. Capitalizing on the unpopularity of the Janissaries—the traditional Ottoman military order—after their defeat by the Greeks, he incites a riot and has most of the soldiers killed in 1826. To commemorate his victory, he constructs the French Empire–style Nusretiye Mosque in Istanbul. In other attempts to revive the declining empire, Mahmud institutes a new European-style dress code (including the fez) and adopts Western diplomatic conventions, dropping the traditional court ceremonial practices previously so important in maintaining the image of the Ottoman sultan. Two French brothers, Jacques and Henri Cayol, travel to Istanbul in 1831 at the invitation of Mehmet Hüsrev Pasha and establish the first lithography workshop there. Painting is taught at the Imperial School of Military Sciences. Unfortunately, administration of the provinces still poses a threat to the stability of the Ottoman empire, as outside powers looking to weaken the empire support insurgencies against the sultan.

  • 1821–30

    The Greeks push for independence and garner Russian support as those in the Balkans had before. An initial revolt is put down by Ottoman forces, but the movement gains momentum once the British intervene in 1827. The war concludes in 1830 when the combined forces of England, France, and Russia induce the Ottoman sultan to grant Greece its freedom.

  • 1830

    The French capture the Ottoman province of Algeria.

  • 1831

    Mahmud II faces a direct challenge from Muhammad ‘Ali (1769–1849), the governor of Egypt, who marches toward Istanbul after being refused the governorship of Syria. To defeat him, Mahmud accepts European aid in 1833; in return, he must grant European merchants broad commercial concessions.

  • 1839–61

    Modernizing reforms continue at a greater pace under Sultan Abdülmecid I; his reign is known as the Tanzimat period. One of his first acts (under pressure from the West, eager to improve trade conditions) is to issue the Rescript of Gülhane, which acknowledges the equality of all of his subjects, no matter what religion, and establishes a legislative council. In 1846, the Ottoman empire begins to collect and exhibit the seeds of what will become the Ottoman Imperial Museum. The popularity of French architectural styles continues during this period, as exemplified in the form and decoration of the 1853 Dolmabahçe Palace.

  • 1848

    The first industrial oil well is drilled in Baku in Azerbaijan, and through the early twentieth century the city produces a major percentage of the world’s oil. The Nobel and Rothschild families are among those to make their fortunes here.

  • ca. 1851

    An archaeological museum is opened in Istanbul to showcase the empire’s Greek and Roman antiquities. The empire is also represented in the world’s fair held in London in this year.

  • 1853–56

    The Crimean War. The conflict is ignited by a disagreement between the Russian and French churches over control of holy sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth, both in Ottoman hands. Russia places troops in Romania to threaten Constantinople and force the sultan to make a decision; war breaks out when the British come out in support of the French. British, French, and Turkish armies then march on Sebastopol in the Russian-held Crimea. Despite heavy casualties (treated in an Istanbul hospital run by Florence Nightingale) and poor organization, these forces win Sebastopol in 1856 and are ultimately victorious against the Russians. The high costs of the war, however, prove dangerous to the empire.

  • 1861–76

    Abdülaziz follows Abdülmecid on the throne. He pays official state visits to Europe and takes a particular interest in the art he sees there. He is the first Ottoman ruler to cross his empire’s borders for a purpose other than war. All is not well in the empire, however, and Abdülaziz faces rebellions in Crete and the Balkans, which again cost large sums to subdue.

  • 1862

    Abdülaziz sends Şeker Ahmet Pasha (Ahmet Ali; 1841–1907) to France, where he studies painting and is influenced by Gustave Courbet. In 1873, he organizes the first exhibition in Turkey combining the works of Turkish and foreign artists.

  • 1876–1909

    Abdülmecid’s Tanzimat reforms culminate in the formation of a parliament and a constitution that are enacted with the accession of Abdülhamid II. However, with the 1878 loss of European territories, and the establishment of foreign spheres of influence in the Middle Eastern territories, Abdülhamid does away with these attempts at liberal rule. He also attempts to reinforce his image as religious guide of the Muslim community by reviving the title of caliph.

  • 1878

    The Treaty of Berlin concludes a war the Ottoman empire has fought on many fronts. In the European provinces, Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania become independent, and the principality of Bulgaria is created. The Austro-Hungarian empire gains control of Bosnia, and government of Cyprus goes to the British. In North Africa, the French take Tunisia, and Russia gains lands around the Black Sea and in eastern Asia Minor.

  • 1881

    After the costly military campaigns of the last several decades, Abdülhamid II must agree to the establishment of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration. The empire’s debt is restructured and European governments and their banks take control of Turkish finances.

  • 1882

    Britain intervenes in popular uprisings against the khedive (viceroy) of Egypt, then occupies the province and installs its own proconsul, ending Ottoman rule.

  • 1883

    The Academy of Fine Arts opens in Istanbul, providing European-style training in the arts. Other artists and architects, including members of the Armenian Balyan family, attend schools in Europe.

  • 1889

    The Council of State sets out a revised administrative program for the Ottoman Imperial Museum that includes a Department of Islamic Arts. The renowned painter Osman Hamdi (1842–1910) assumes its directorship.

  • 1894–96

    Nationalist movements in parts of Armenia still under Ottoman control are suppressed after thousands of Armenians are forced to relocate and many die as a consequence.

  • 1898

    After a revolt in Crete, England, France, Russia, and Italy once again intervene in the region’s politics and force the sultan to grant autonomy to the island.


“Anatolia and the Caucasus, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)