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Home > Events > Exhibitions > Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire
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Exhibition Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire


Ottoman Empire Costume PosterThe story of the Jews of Turkey is a fascinating one, for its rich and multi-layered history. We know that there was a large number of Jews living in Constantinople as far back as Byzantine times, and that the Turkish tribes encountered Jews on their arrival in Anatolia. Ottoman Jewry expanded dramatically in the late 1490s with the expulsion of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. These Sephardi settlers brought with them new cultural elements which enriched the community, but unfortunately, not much has survived from this era of Jewish history.

In the early 1980s, I began collecting books and old postcards containing examples of Ottoman Jewish clothing. In 1999, with the assistance of the Municipality, the former Fez House in Eyup became the site for a ‘handicrafts’ bazaar’. Walking around the exhibition hall, I came upon works by three tezhip and miniature artists, who later on would draw the illustrations for this book. At the exhibition there were a number of miniatures depicting Ottoman Jews, and it was these, which helped me realize a project I have been dreaming of for years.

The clothing in our book, “The Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire", has been classified according to regions. In each section, clothes have been classified chronologically according to the year the photograph was taken, or alternatively, when the etching and painting were done.

I would like to thank the three tezhip artists, Olcay Cetinok, Ruhiefza Verdon and Harika Yazici for their detailed research and considerable assistance for over one year in realizing this project.

I hope you enjoy this exhibition, and better appreciate the rich tapestry of the Turkish Jewish life that once was. Thanks to all who have helped in the creation of this exhibition and book.

Silvyo Ovadya
Curator of the Exhibition
Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire Program [PDF]
Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire Flyer [PDF]
(Excerpt from the introduction to the catalogue)

Tezhip Art

Tezhip design is a classical form of Turkish fine artwork, and refers to an intricate form of decorative gilding or illumination employed mostly on manuscripts and the edges of calligraphic texts. Literally, the word tezhip means 'turning gold' or 'covering with gold leaf’ in Arabic. In the tezhip gilding process, however, the gilding is typically done with the paint of other colors as well. As a widespread art discipline among Ottoman decorative arts, illumination displayed a variety of styles over the centuries. The golden age of tezhip , like so many of the Turkish arts, occurred during the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1560). From the second half of the 17th century, tezhip artwork experienced a decline due to the western influence on illumination. From the 1940s on, however, artists sought to reconnect with traditional illumination styles and tezhip once again thrived.

The tezhip art discipline is an exacting and demanding one that requires skill, creativity and precision. According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture: “The main ingredient in illumination is gold or paint. Gold is used in a thin leaf prepared by beating it to an extreme fineness. The gold leaf is powdered in water and mixed with gelatine, and then brought to the desired thickness. Earth paints tended to be preferred in terms of paint, although synthetic paints were employed later. The illuminator, known as the 'müzehhip,' first uses a needle to impress the designs he has drawn onto paper attached to a hard boxwood or zinc base. She/he then places the perforated paper onto the material he intends to decorate, and fills the holes with a sticky, black powder. When the paper is removed, the design is left behind. The motif is then rounded out and filled with the gold leaf or paint.”

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Ottoman Empire Exhibit
Image of Turkish Couple during the Ottoman Empire
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