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Ottoman treasures at the Nieuwe Kerk

14 December 2006 – Just as the Netherlands is leading the way in anti-Turkish sentiments, the Nieuwe Kerk tries to build a bridge between the two countries. Next Saturday, an exhibition on the cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul will open.

The exhibition opens with an impression of a Bazaar, with street noises and an impressive collection of brightly coloured plastic clothes pegs, dish drainers, storage boxes and brooms. The rest of the exhibition is about the Ottoman Empire. No plastic, but silver, mother of pearl, gems and other precious materials. Much of it is from the famous Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

The exhibition is mainly about the court culture of the Sultans. Accordingly, many objects – contrary to the clothes pegs – have a superior uselessness to them. The richly decorated daggers, for example, were not used as weapons, but as fashion accessories - both by men and women.

The platform-soled slippers women wore in the hamam did have a practical purpose: they kept their feet dry. However, at the same time, they served as status symbols too. The higher the soles, the more servants were needed to keep the lady wearing them from falling over.

Even with weaponry, practical use was less important than elegance. The Ottomans preferred helmets made of copper: not as strong as iron or steel, but easier to decorate.

The Sultans and their court apparently liked to spend their time using richly decorated tools such as coffee sets, calligraphy sets, special spoons to eat fruit sherbets and little pots to store chewing gum. “Girls constantly kept the chewing gum in their mouths, this chewing gum kept their breath fresh and their teeth white. This was highly appreciated by the Sultan”, a 17th Century French visitor wrote.

At ‘our Istanbul in Amsterdam’, as Chief of Exhibitions Marlies Kleiterp called the exhibition, attention is also paid to the relation with the Netherlands. The Ottoman Empire was one of the first great powers to recognize the Dutch Republic in 1612. In the Spaniards, we had a common enemy.

Today, the relationship is not as warm anymore. In Europe, the Netherlands is leading the way in anti-Turkish populism. During the election campaign, all of a sudden a debate about the Armenian genocide erupted. However, the Nieuwe Kerk hopes to build a bridge by giving the Dutch an opportunity to get to know the cultural roots of today’s Turkey.

Whether the treasures from the Topkapi will help soften the hearts of the followers of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is doubtful: in this respect as well, the objects are probably utterly useless. All the same, the exhibition is spectacular. Superior kitsch including tea pots, pepper mills and tesselated tiles can be obtained at the museum shop, which also sells the beautiful catalogue.

Istanbul: The City and the Sultan. Opening hours. Catalogue: 29.95 euro. Image above: Ceremonial dagger, Ottoman, late 17th century – early 18th century, Mogul, steel, gold, crystal, ruby, emerald, length 35 cm, Topkapi Palace Museum.

See also: Turkish Amsterdammers appreciate exhibition


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