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Ancient Istanbul Through the Eyes of Artists Around the World

When we ask people about their definition of artists, we can hear various answers all of which can be counted as correct. For example, artists can be explained as people who have the ability to reflect, make or transform meaning with their aesthetic work and who primarily tend to observe. Moreover, they may either choose to directly and objectively transcribe their points of view, or they can reconstruct and present them in a way that shows their subjectivity. What is usually interesting about artists including their interpretations in their work is the fact that art enthusiasts can see these particular takes on the subjects. Taking a look at artists’ perspectives of Istanbul, a big beautiful city with a history that goes way back, we can witness such examples.

Primarily, we can observe Istanbul in the most explicated way through the descriptions of Turkish literors and poets. Because of the way they choose to integrate what they see into their stories, they give us a point of view that we may not have seen ourselves before. A fitting example is Sait Faik Abasıyanık, a Turkish writer and poet, who talks about Istanbul in nearly all of his works and mostly highlights the realistic aspects. While he admires Istanbul’s beauty every time, he also adds commentary of his own, indicating the facts of his reality of the city. For example, in his book Dolapdere, he frequently mentions the dreamy and dilly facets of life in Istanbul and the beautiful names of the districts, yet he adds that the pretty names may not always be accurate and that sometimes the romanticized lives are not pleasant.

Other great examples of reflective portrayals of Istanbul can be observed in the works of Atilla İlhan, a Turkish poet, writer, and journalist. He lived in Istanbul, Izmir, and Paris throughout his life, yet the place that we observe the most in his works is surely Istanbul. What makes his narration and description of Istanbul interesting is the way he chooses his words according to the psychological states of his characters so that the images that occur in the readers’ minds match what the character sees. For example, in one of his books he describes Beyoğlu, a district of Istanbul, by pointing out a broken shallop, the heavy-looking dome of a big mosque, the crowd, and how everyone is in a state of hurry. Regardless of his story and characters, he almost never forgets to mention the richness and beauty of Istanbul. A very similar portrayal can be seen in the novel of Charles King, Midnight at the Pera Palace. The well-written and renowned book was then also adapted into a Netflix series. Both in the series and the book, Istanbul is shown before its modernization and makes us imagine the busy crowds and the heavy atmosphere of the old times.

Last but not least, as an example of representation of Istanbul in visual arts, we can refer to the painting named ‘Istanboul, le soleil couchant’which is now being exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts Rouen, France. Looking at the scene, we see Istanbul through the eyes of Felix Ziem, a French painter. As most artists do, he prefers to display Istanbul with its big mosques and its architecture’s Islamic aspects with the high domes.

Istanbul, le soleil couchant by Felix Ziem, 1864

In conclusion, Istanbul is a gorgeous city with a rich history and many interesting features that allows it to become the subject of many different artworks by countless artists from all around the world.

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