The Relationship Between Art and Politics in the 19th Century Ottoman Empire: Institutionalization, Change and Continuity
His Majesty’s Painter Zonaro: A Professional Career Bound to PoliticsMehmet İnanç Özekmekçi
Using alternative sources to examine the formation of the modern state in the context of Ottoman modernization reveals interesting nuances and enables a more intensive investigation of the topic. The art of painting and the relationship established between the visual arts, artists, and the Palace represent such resources, especially in the 19th century. The Sultan’s visibility and the paternalistic discourse built through it created a new basis for political legitimacy in the 1800s. The Hamidian era is a challenging period to position within this framework in the process of Ottoman modernization because the 33 years of Abdulhamid II’s reign evinced both continuity and estrangement from previous imperial attempts of modernization. This article discusses how Fausto Zonaro, Abdulhamid II’s chief painter, contributed to the institution of the paternalistic discourse during his tenure. More specifically, the study traces the changes in the regime and the power relations in the Empire through Zonaro’s experience. Indeed, Zonaro’s ascendancy in the Empire occurred under the auspices of a sultan who attempted to organize the construction of the modern state and establish its influence on the public within the structures of the traditional understanding of power relations and legitimacy. Zonaro’s professional career and expectations were bound to a relationship based on a conception of patronage that was inapt for his era: in such an association, the fate of the patron would inevitably reflect the destiny of those who received the patronage.