Istanbul is set in an extraordinary geographical area where the sea and the land are within sight of one another. Its historical peninsula rises over the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, Marmara and the Black Sea, and the Asian and European shores and islands. Open and enclosed spaces, hills, broad horizons and coasts complement each other. Tanpınar, stated that “Istanbul is not merely a city where the monuments and monumental works of art are abundant. The nature of the city also helps these works of art to be seen”.1 Expressing this feature of Istanbul, he underlined the sights that were enriched by the changing light conditions: “Finally, an accumulation of luminous effects from always being between southwestern and northeastern winds makes these works of art appear at every moment to be of various shapes distinct from one another.”2

In order to locate the importance of sculpture in Istanbul’s historical, social and cultural structure, it is necessary to emphasize that the geographical and topographical conditions of the city were conducive to three-dimensional plastic works of art such as architecture and sculpture. It is also possible to go further and define Istanbul as a city of sculpture. Perhaps Istanbul is a sculpture that can be, in all its beauty, watched from a boat in the middle of the sea or from a hill that rises with a soft inclination…

Sculpture in Roman and Byzantine Istanbul

The history of the city’s sculpture dates back to the seventh century BC. The temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses and the squares surrounded by them were decorated with statues in the acropolis of Byzantium, which was an ancient Greek city. The acropolis was situated in the area where Topkapı Palace is located today. In the collection of the Istanbul Archeological Museum, part of the kuros (statues of young men specific to the ancient period) that date back to the sixth century BC which were discovered in Yenikapi, are findings from this period.

Another piece of information that dates back to before Christ is based on a tale and is related to the rock where the Maiden’s Tower is located. After Byzantium came under the domination of Athens, the latter sent its navy, led by Admiral Haresto, to Byzantium in order to protect the Macedonian King Phillip when threatened with an attack. When the wife of the commander became ill and passed away, her mausoleum, Damalis and Arcla, which was comprised of a marble floor, a pillar and an ox statue, was erected there or on Uskudar’s coast.

Embossed tomb stelae dating back to the sixth -first centuries BC were found in Beyazıt and were added to the collection of the Istanbul Archeological Museum. They are early examples that show the special place that funerary monuments had in Istanbul’s history of sculpture.

A nymphaion (a fountain with a pool and statue) dating back to the second century AD, which was found in Silahtarağa, is in the Archeological Museum as is a group statues that depicts the wars of the old Greek gods and giants. The invasion of the city in the period of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (d. 211), two centuries after the birth of Christ, and the groundbreaking for a hippodrome there were remarkable developments. Eastern Romans did not waste time and surrounded the city with statues in the following centuries. The porphyry Tetrarch Group, which was in the Philadelphion Square of the city and symbolized the quadruple rule managing the empire at the end of the third century and early fourth century, is in Venice today. The first signs of Istanbul becoming Roman were when the city became the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great (d. 337), who constructed the heart of the East Roman Empire, did not fail to decorate the forums (squares) with statues during his widespread development activities. It is known that there was a statue on Column of Constantine (today’s Çemberlitaş); it glorified the emperor like the god Apollo Helios and fell down in a storm in the early twelfth century. It is also stated in historical sources that there were statues of Athena and Tethys in front of the porch area of the senate building in the northeast of the same forum. During Constantine’s reign, the city was decorated with statues that were brought from all parts of the Empire.

1- The statues found in Silahtarağa excavations (Istanbul Archeology Museum)

Many statues were put on the spina of the Hippodrome (the elevation in the middle axis of the Hippodrome where the monuments were located) during this period. The Greek work of art known as the Serpent Column, which came from the city of Delphi, was one of them and it is understood that it remained in the same place until the end of the seventh century in Ottoman times. The statues of emperors either on horseback or standing, some animal statues, nude male and female statues, a large scale Heracles statue and a Skylla statue that depicted a half-fish, half-female that fought against an athlete were on the spina. Four Bronze Horse Statues that were attributed to the sculptor Lysippos in the fourth century BC and are understood to have decorated the cathisma (the imperial chamber) or the carceres (the arched structure where the horse races started) of the Hippodrome was moved to Venice during the Latin invasion in the thirteenth century.

Only the remnants of the Column of Theodosios, which was erected in the Forum of Theodosios close to today’s Beyazıt Square and which had the statue of the emperor whose name it bore, is still standing. There was a statue of an emperor on the Column of Arcadius, which did not survive. The Bust of Archadius, which was found in Beyazıt and dates back to the late fourth century, can be seen in the Istanbul Archeological Museum. The Philosopher’s Bust that is in the museum collection belongs to the early fifth century.

The statue of Theodosios II sitting in his carriage pulled by elephants was by the ceremonial Golden Gate, which is located in Yedikule today. The statue of Marcian that was located on the monument known as Kıztaşı (Maiden’s Stone) in Fatih and today is considered to be the Barletta statue in the city of Bari, is an example from the fifth century. It is understood that there was a statue of Emperor Justinian on horseback in the Augusteion, which is the area where Hagia Sophia Square is located today.

The Sarıgüzel Sarcophagus, which is a significant example in terms of the integrity of the buried treasure and statues of the city, dates back to the early fifth century when the tradition of embossed Roman tombs was integrated with Christian art.

As Eastern Rome became more Byzantine, the sculpture history of the capital city of Istanbul took a more even course. The figurative sculpture tradition became weaker as of the eighth century due to the effect of Arab and Slavic attacks and then with the ban of religious depictions in the period of iconoclasm.

2- The statues that the grand vizier İbrahim Paşa brought from Hungary and placed in Sultanahmet Square (Lokman, <em>Hünername</em>)

Sculpture and Three Dimensional Plastic in Classical Ottoman Art

This situation did not change much when Istanbul became the capital city of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-fifteenth century. It was common that three-dimensional figure representations were not welcomed by the Ottoman palace and society due to religious belief. Many researchers have discussed whether there was such a religious prohibition by interpreting the statements in the Qur’an. Whether the reason was religious or not, three-dimensional figure representations stood for a small part of Ottoman art and social perception. On the other hand, the examples of Anatolian cultural heritage that had not gone underground were recognized in the Ottoman period and they mostly stayed intact in daily life. Renda emphasizes that the Ottomans did not destroy the statues and embossments from previous civilizations and Sultan Mehmed II (the Conqueror [1451-1481]) embraced the Byzantine heritage when Istanbul was conquered and protected the embossments on the Golden Gate as well as the Theodosios Monument and the Serpent Column in the Blue Mosque Square.3 Fatih also had many tombs and statues in Istanbul which were moved to the second courtyard of Topkapı Palace which he had built.

It is known that the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha (d. 1536) commissioned European artists and exhibited statues of gods and goddess that he had brought as war booty from Budapest in the Blue Mosque Square during Kanuni Sultan Süleyman’s (Suleyman the Magnificient [1520-1566]) reign. The opponents of Ibrahim Pasha did not approve of his actions and started a widespread rumor. The following verse written about him is key to understanding the subject:4

Bir Halil evvel gelip, esnamı kılmıştı şikest
(Abraham came and destroyed all idols)

Sen Halil’im şimdi geldin, halkı kıldın putperest
(Halil, now you came and made pagans public)

The process of the addition of Turkish sculpture to the Western sculptural tradition, which was based on representing three-dimensional figures, may have started with the establishment of the School of Fine Arts (1882) and the initiation of teaching sculpture in the school. However, when we approach sculpture as “a three-dimensional plastic expression style” and with an aesthetic understanding that developed within this scope, it is possible to trace the different examples and applications in the Turkish art tradition to even earlier dates.

Ottoman classical art disciplines in metal, ceramic and glass gained value as aesthetic objects within the private domain. The domes and minarets of the mosques, tombstones, birdhouses and fountains in public areas can be said to have developed a kind of aesthetic appreciation in the society. The tombstones that were defined by Lecomte as “A stone imama that was bent as if it wanted to whisper a secret from the past”, fountains and minarets, some modest and some monumental, that were integrated with mosques were in all parts of the city.

The Eighteenth-Century Art and Sculpture and Three-Dimensional Plastic in the Tanzimat Period

3- The sphere in front of Sultan Mahmud II’s tomb. The original sphere does not exist anymore.

The Square Fountains of Istanbul were innovative both because the embossed patterns in Ottoman naturalist style on the fountains were not stylized botanical patterns but flowers in a vase or fruits in a basket in a naturalistic style. In the Tulip Era, the first phase of the transformation process defined as Westernization was experienced in the eighteenth century. Square fountains also gained significance as objects in their own right due to being the focal point of an open area.

Diplomatic relations with the West in the eighteenth century and the increasing presence of embassies in Istanbul led to the Ottoman palace becoming more aware of Western culture and art. Yirmisekiz Çelebi Mehmed Efendi’s (d. 1733) Sefaretnâme depicts the palaces, paintings and sculptures that he saw in Paris and many Western artists and architects started visiting Istanbul and presenting their works to the palace although it was not in the field of sculpture. Finally, Ottoman art interpreted Western style as the Ottoman Baroque Style for the first time in the middle of the century. Early structures in baroque, such as the Mehmet Emin Ağa Public Fountain, were in public spaces and attracted attention with embossed decorations on their sides.

4- The drawing of the monument of Tanzimat (<em>Şehbal</em>)

The target sighting stones that were erected in various areas such as Okmeydani and Nisantasi where the sultans practiced archery in the city during the reigns of Selim III (1789-1807) and Mahmud II’s (1808-1839) are also considered monuments: Renda states that fine calligraphy, botanical adornments and designs, such as garlands and wreaths, generally decorated the upper parts turned these stones into monuments.5

Another example that was among the inscribed stones but did not survive was the stone that was erected in Beykoz to commemorate the Ottoman-Russian Alliance in 1833.

The relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Western culture and art became closer in the nineteenth century and the erecting of monuments in the public sphere of the city became more common, particularly after the declaration of the Imperial Edict of Gülhane. It had been planned to erect a monument in the courtyard of Beyazıd Mosque on the first anniversary of the Tanzimat Reforms. The text of the Imperial Edict of Gülhane was to be written on this monument and although Italian architect Gaspare Fossati, who was in Istanbul at that time, designed the monument, it was not carried out. Simultaneously, stone of justice was planned to be erected in Gülhane Park.

One of the significant monuments that was designed right after the Tanzimat and has survived, is the globe that is located on the Tomb of Mahmud II. This globe has the feature of a Western style monument. It is emphasized that the style of these monuments is new but it is not contrary to the Ottoman tradition with its abstract design.6

Artin Bilezikci, who was an architect trained in Paris and who had an exhibition in the 1855 Paris Exhibition, designed another monument that dated back to the Sultan Abdülmecid era (1839-1861) in the period following Tanzimat but was not realized. It can be seen in Ottoman archives that the sultan made a payment to a sculptor named Krauk in 1858 which shows that Western sculptors were starting to work for the palace or were presenting their works to the palace.

The efforts made within the palace in order to review the cultural accumulation of Anatolia in the discipline of sculpture also coincide with this period. Tophane Marshall Fethi Ahmed Pasha (d. 1858) who was responsible for Harbiye Storehouse that contained the collections of Darülesliha (Military Museum), sent circular letters to various cities of the Empire with the permission of Sultan Abdülmecid and gathered the works of art that he had brought from Hagia Irene Church to the first courtyard of Topkapı Palace. Old weapons and those that were among war booty were also in this church, which was used as an ammunition store after the conquest of Istanbul. Fethi Ahmed Pasha organized these objects as Mecma-ı Âsâr-ı Atîka (old works of art) and Mecma-ı Âsâr-ı Esliha (weapons) in 1846.

Some of the old works of art that were found in various regions were brought to the museum and finally, during the Saffet Pasha’s (d.1883) term as the Minister of Education this collection was turned into a museum and named as the Imperial Museum. Saffet Pasha was closely involved in the museum until his Office ended in 1871. He sent a circular letter to governors and commanded them to send old works of art that they found in their cities to the museum. This way, the rich sculptural history of Anatolia was gathered within the grounds of the palace.

Sultan Abdülaziz and Sculpture

There were significant developments in Ottoman sculpture during Sultan Abdülaziz’s period (1861-1876). Abdülaziz was the first Ottoman sultan to visit a European country. During his three-month trip in 1867, he visited Paris, London and Vienna. He saw many statues both in the squares and palaces and museums in the important cultural centers of Europe. Moreover, he must have studied the monumental statues in the 1867 Paris World Exhibition. The most important document that shows his observations regarding the art of sculpture during his trip is a drawing taken from L’Illustration published by Ali Kemali Aksüt and Mustafa Cezar that shows the Sultan in the Ambras gallery in Vienna. Abdülaziz was studying the statues in the drawing. Aksüt particularly emphasized the Sultan’s museum visit in his work of art that depicted the Sultan’s trip.

The impressions Abdülaziz gained during his overseas trip must have been the main reason that spurred his desire to have a statue of himself made. In particular, the idea of equestrian statues that he saw in city squares seemed to have affected him. Such statues also reflected his fondness of horses. The English sculptor Charles Fuller went to Istanbul to make the statue, which was later completed in Florence. The bronze founding of the statue was carried out in Munich. The artist also made a bust of the Sultan. The equestrian statue of Abdülaziz was put in Beylerbeyi Palace. It was therefore designed so that its dimensions were smaller than that of a person to be placed indoors, differing from the monumental equestrian statues that were located in the city squares in the West. However, it was a significant practice for it demonstrates the changing attitude of the palace towards the art of sculpture.

It is also known that Abdülaziz had animal statues from France such as a horse, bull and deer, put in the gardens of Beylerbeyi Palace in 1864. This practice would soon be adopted by the other Western style Ottoman palaces as well.

During those years, practices in favor of a new three-dimensional aesthetic language in Ottoman cemeteries began. Emiroğlu emphasized that the cemeteries of chief admirals and naval officers which were decorated with broken masts from marble, sailcloth, reels and ropes had the character of a mausoleum and stated that the tombstone of Ateş Mehmed Pasha, who died in 1865, was made in France.7

5- Sultan Abdülaziz’s statue in Beylerbeyi Palace

The Period of Abdülhamid II

The Imperial Museum was moved from Hagia Irene to Çinili Mansion in 1876 and opened to visitors in 1880 during Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign (1876-1909). A new building was added to the museum through the efforts of Osman Hamdi Bey (d.1910) and it experienced a big step forward with the works of art that were added to the collection during Osman Hamdi Bey’s term. A great deal of information regarding the old statues procured from different regions of Ottoman geography and their addition to the Imperial Museum can be found in the Ottoman archive records of those years.

Clock towers are specific examples of the practice of displaying monuments in public spheres: Yeşilkaya emphasizes that the clock towers that were located in the important focal points of the city reflected the control over space and time according to the new fashions in the Ottoman city.8

The increase of Westerners living in Istanbul in the late nineteenth century and the presence of embassies were remarkable in terms of the history of sculpture in the city. According to the Ottoman archives, it can be observed that “the placement of the statue of Marshall Moltke in an area allocated for the German embassy in Tarabya was allowed” in 1885 and that the monument was unveiled by Architect Jasmund on November 4, 1889.

Statues in Christian cemeteries are interesting as well. It is stated in the archive records that the Ottoman Government had an officer brought from Rome during the erection of a statue in Feriköy Cemetery for Italian soldiers who died in the Crimea War in 1885.

Early examples of exhibitions of works of art that were open to the public could be observed in this era. It is understood that in 1875, there were busts and small statues in the second of the two exhibitions organized by Şeker Ahmed Pasha. Yervant Osgan’s (d. 1914) gypsum and clay works were exhibited at the second exhibition organized by the Elifba Club in April 1881. In September 1882, the first sculpture exhibition in the history of the city took place and life size wax statues of Italian artists were exhibited in Beyoglu. Another important activity during Abdülhamid II’s era in relation to sculpture exhibitions was Istanbul Salons that took place three times between 1901 and 1903.

However, the most important development in the field of art during this era was the establishment of Sanayi-i Nefise Mekteb-i Âlîsi (School of Fine Arts). The painter Osman Hamdi Bey tried to establish a school of fine arts as well as carrying out his work in archeology and museology. The school had a sculpture department in addition to painting and architecture. Yervant Osgan, who was appointed as the head of the school, obtained his art education in Venice and Rome and was the first Ottoman to be taught sculpture in Europe. After staying in Paris for a while, he returned to Istanbul and met Osman Hamdi Bey in the limited art environment of Istanbul. Mesrur İzzet, in addition to personalities such as İhsan Özsoy (d. 1944), İsa Behzad (d. 1916), Mehmet Bahri and Basri who were among his first students in the department of sculpture were considered the representatives of the first generation of Turkish sculpture. This generation, which followed the footsteps of Yervant Osgan, handled figure sculpture with an interpretation resembling the academic style and concentrated on smaller scale bust and figure works.

6- Yıldız Clock Tower

From the Second Constitutional Monarchy to the Republic

The era following the declaration of the Second Constitutional Monarchy was when the second-generation artists of Turkish sculpture were trained. İhsan Özsoy was appointed as the head of the sculpture department at the School of Fine Arts in 1908 after Yervant Osgan. Mahir Tomruk (d. 1949), who was one of Özsoy’s students, continued his education in Germany after graduating from the sculpture department in 1916. Nijad Sirel (d. 1959) studied sculpture in Munich. Both sculptors became active in their fields in the first years of the Republic.

There were a small number of sculptures along with paintings and architectural projects among the exhibitions of students of the School of Fine Arts at the end of the year during this period. The presence of the school became an important phenomenon in spreading the seeds of Turkish sculpture. The possibility of founding associations once again following the declaration of the Second Constitutional Monarchy (1908) brought with it an attempt by artists from both the military and the graduates of the School of Fine Arts to be gathered under one association. After the Ottoman Society of Painters was founded in 1909, they published the Ottoman Society of Painters’ Newspaper between 1911 and 1914 and included works of art by artists such as Yervant Osgan, İsa Behzad, Mehmet Bahri and Mesrur İzzet. The revival in Istanbul’s press was also effective in introducing art and sculpture to the public.

Galatasaray Exhibitions organized once a year as of 1916 would later be named the Association of Fine Arts and from 1922 included sculptures. Nijad Sirel took part in the exhibitions with two portraits and Sabiha Ziya Hanım and Melek Ahmed Hanım each had one bust in the exhibitions in 1922. Since the exhibition organized by Şeker Ahmed Pasha in 1875, sculpture has become prominent as an art style in Istanbul for almost half a century.

On the other hand, the idea of erecting monuments in order to commemorate certain events and ideals in the public sphere became more common. Most of these were monuments without figures. The architect Muzaffer Bey had Şişli Abide-i Hürriyet Monument made between 1909 and 1911 in commemoration of people who lost their lives during the 31 March Incident. Another example is the Plane Martyrs Monument made by the architect Vedat Tek in Fatih between 1914 and 1916 in remembrance of the first Turkish aviation martyrs who lost their lives between Istanbul and Cairo during the first years of World War I. Both monuments consisted of a column placed on a high base with Ottoman motifs particular to the First National Architecture and did not have figure statues. On the other hand, the bull statue made by Isidore Bonheur in 1864 and presented to Enver Pasha (d.1922) by the German Emperor Wilhelm II (d.1941) was placed in the public sphere.

Another example of sculpture in the public sphere was the statues on the sides of multistory masonry structures particularly around the Beyoğlu-Galata area during the second half of the nineteenth century. These statues were complete with columns, garlands and botanical decorations as well as masks, caryatid and figures.

Sculpture in the Republican Era of Istanbul: 1923-1945

The developments in the field of sculpture during the last period of the Ottoman Empire were of great importance for the history of sculpture in the city. However, a worldview that gave momentum to Turkish sculpture came into question with the declaration of the Republic. The Republican Government, which aimed to “reach the level of contemporary civilization”, gave particular importance to the arts. This importance was expressed in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s speech in Bursa Şark Movie Theatre on January 22, 1923: “If a nation does not paint, if a nation does not produce sculptures, if a nation does not do the things required by science, it must be admitted that this nation does not have a place on the path to progress.” Atatürk also foresaw the place of sculpture in public life in the same speech: “Our enlightened and religious nation will advance sculpture, which is one of the reasons of development, to the highest level and every corner of our country will declare the memories of our ancestors and our children to the whole world with beautiful statues.”

The state sent Ratip Aşir Acudoğlu, Ali Hadi Bara and Zühtü Müridoğlu to France in 1925, 1927 and 1928 respectively, and Nusret Suman to Germany in 1929 on overseas scholarships in line with its views. Young Turkish sculptors studied abroad in the workshops of masters such as Despaiu, Bouchard, Landowski and Gimond and adopted an understanding that surpassed previous Turkish sculpture in terms of subject, material and method.

The state tried to raise the sculpture ateliers to the level of contemporary education during the renovation of the Fine Arts Academy in relation to the importance and value it gave to the sculpture. People such as Mahir Tomruk and Nijad Sirel as well as İhsan Özsoy, who completed their training before the Republic, were active during its first years. İhsan Özsoy was in the Sculpture Department of the Fine Arts Academy where he served until 1933. He is one of the representatives of the first generation of academic Turkish sculptors. On the other hand, Mahir Tomruk and Nijad Sirel, who worked in the academy, were committed to a style that was purified of details and had a more comprehensive expression with a plainer depiction. When Ali Hadi Bara returned to the country in 1930, he became the first person of his generation to join the school staff. Therefore, the presentation of a generation that would lead Turkish sculpture in the academy was realized. Individuals such as Zühtü Müridoğlu (1940), Nusret Suman (1943) and Kenan Yontunç (1943) were later given duties in the school.

7- Statue of Liberty

Within the framework of the University Reform that took place in 1933, the appointment of the German sculptor Rudolf Belling (d. 1972) was the result of bringing in foreign artists who were competent in their own areas for inclusion in the staff at the Fine Arts Academy and was a new phase in the sculpture education of the school. The artist, who was one of the significant representatives of modern sculpture, restructured the sculpture department.

The change in understanding in the Sculpture Department of the Academy had an important influence in shaping Turkish sculpture. In addition to this, the academy contributed to the development of sculpture by sharing their works through exhibitions. The annual student exhibition of the sculpture department had a special place among these. The exhibition that took place in 1940 was opened by the Minister of Education Hasan Âli Yücel. The Fine Arts Academy hosted more comprehensive exhibitions as well as student exhibitions and was the organizer of these exhibitions. The Turkish Sculptors Exhibition was one of five exhibitions that opened in August 1937 under the auspices of the school and featured at the Istanbul Festival. The art works of artists such as Ali Hadi Bara, Zühtü Müridoğlu, Ratip Aşir Acudoğlu, Nusret Suman, Sabiha Bengütaş and Nermin Sirel were shown in the exhibition that occupied two salons.

The Turkish Art Exhibition of Fifty Years, organized in the Fine Arts Academy in August 1937, proposed the establishment of an Art and Sculpture Museum. As a result of the importance given to arts during the Republican period, the required knowledge was acquired for the establishment of a museum, in addition to other similar developments. Finally, the work started with Atatürk’s support and the allocation of the Chamber of the Heir to the Throne in Dolmabahçe Palace. The Collection of Embroidered Panels (Elvah-ı Nakşiye) that was formed before the Republic, works of art taken from exhibitions by the government agencies and works of art donated by the artists were based on the works carried out under the leadership of Léopold Lévy, the head of the Painting Department at the Academy. The opening of the museum took place with Atatürk’s participation on September 20, 1937. The museum has maintained its importance in terms of containing significant examples of Turkish sculpture.

The most important period of development for Turkish sculpture was during the time when the first generation artists of the Republic were being trained abroad. With the declaration of the Republic, the subject of monuments gained importance. Monuments were a part of the modernization program of the Republic. Furthermore, attempts to embody the National War of Independence enabling the establishment of the Turkish Republic and Atatürk’s reforms, which would form the infrastructure of modern Turkey, increased the need for monuments in the public sphere in every corner of the country. The number of trained Turkish sculptors who had the technical knowledge that would meet the need for monuments during early Republic was small. Therefore, the first monument projects were undertaken by foreign sculptors such as Canonica (d. 1959) and Krippel (d. 1945). The first monument was the Sarayburnu Atatürk Statue made by Krippel in 1926. It was followed by others such as Canonica’s Taksim Republic Monument.

The need to work in an environment focused on monument statues and to be accepted were sentiments that arose among the first generation of sculptors of the Republic who completed their education abroad. Although young Turkish sculptors produced monument sculptures in many Anatolian cities since the early 1930s, the first statue made by a Turkish artist, Ali Hadi Bara, in Istanbul was the Harbiye Atatürk Statue in 1937. The Barbaros Monument, which was unveiled in 1944, was a collaborative work by Ali Hadi Bara and Zühtü Müridoğlu. This statue attracts attention as an example that is outside of monument understanding that moved the Atatürk image to public spheres as the symbol of Independence War and Republic reforms during the first years of the Republic. The statue group that depicts Barbaros Hayreddin and two marines is an important part of the square design where Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha Tomb is located.

The first generation of artists who displayed potential in terms of quality and quantity in Turkish sculpture was comprised of people who had completed their education in the early Republic. These first-generation artists, led by Ali Hadi Bara (b. 1906-d. 1971) transformed the process of three-dimensional plastic art in Turkey. The artists from this generation, such as Zühtü Müridoğlu (d. 1992), Ratip Aşir Acudoğlu (d. 1957), Nusret Suman (d. 1978), Kenan Yontunç (d. 1998), Sabiha Bengütaş (b. 1904-d.1992) along with Bara carried the understanding of sculpture based on figures beyond the classical-academic line which was dependent on realism. They followed in the footsteps of the masters of modern sculpture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as Rodin (d. 1917), Maillol (d. 1944), Bourdelle (d. 1929), and Despiau, who brought new interpretations to figure statues and developed their personal approaches in this direction from the 1930s.

The Galatasaray Exhibitions of the Fine Arts Association were of great importance since they represented Turkish sculpture until 1929-1930 during which time the first-generation artists of the Republic completed their education abroad and returned. The sculptors of this generation participated in these exhibitions in 1924 (Ratip Aşir Acudoğlu and Sabiha Bengütaş), 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928 (Sabiha Bengütaş and Zühtü Müridoğlu).

However, young painters and sculptors founded the Association of Independent Artists and Sculptors in line with their own artistic views when they returned to their home country. Sculptor Ratip Aşir Acudoğlu was among the founders of the association, and he exhibited three statues in the Istanbul Turkish Center on October 15, 1929. The most interesting exhibition of the association was their fourth exhibition which opened in Istanbul Beyoglu in February 1931. There, Ali Hadi Bara’s works of art were exhibited as well as Sabiha Bengutas. The Havva (Eve) statue that Bara sculpted in Paris and brought to Turkey was one of the most talked about works, and was written about in newspaper articles; furthermore, it was at the center of an unpleasant incident in the exhibition. People were charged an entrance fee as was common in that period. One day, the stamp inspector who went to the exhibition said that the tickets were illegal and he had seen some illegal activities and then he wanted to impose a fine due to the explicit nature of the sculptures and paintings. This incident was a reflection of the social attitude towards sculpture.

The d Group was formed by the first generation artists of the Republic, and sculptor Zühtü Müridoğlu was one of the six founding artists. After the group was founded in 1933, they hosted influential art exhibitions until the late 1940s. Apart from Zühtü Müridoğlu, who took part in all the group’s exhibitions, sculptor Nusret Suman’s name can be seen from the time of their twentieth exhibition in the Gallery Ismail Oygar in 1945 onwards.

Solidarity among artists was not only promoted through associations and groups but also through the organization of joint exhibitions. Sculptors such as Zühtü Müridoğlu, Kenan Yontunç, and Sabiha Bengütaş took part in the Combined Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions organized in 1936 and 1937.

The Association of Turkish Painters and Sculptors, which exhibited the works of sculptors such as Zühtü Müridoğlu, organized its first exhibition in the salons of the Fine Arts Academy in 1943. It was an association where artists came together under the difficult conditions of World War II, regardless of their generation, group or understanding.

The artists’ desire to act together and organize exhibitions was understandable given their limited artistic environment that did not provide the opportunity of having exhibition space. However, the young sculptor Zühtü Müridoğlu broke new ground in Turkish sculpture and opened his first sculpture exhibition in this environment and under these conditions. Only nine people were present at the opening of the exhibition which took place in Istanbul’s Alay Mansion in September 1932.

Another component that contributed to the art environment in this period was publications regarding the arts. News and commentaries on sculpture were given in art-focused magazines such as Ülkü, Ar, Yeni Adam, Arkitekt, Güzel Sanatlar and newspapers such as Milliyet, Cumhuriyet, Vakit. The most striking among the publications were issues of Ar in April 1937, which focused on Turkish Sculpture, and in May 1937, on the Issue of Monuments. Moreover, Nurullah Berk’s book called Turkish Sculptors from 1937 is a first in this field.

Post World War II: 1945-1970

Abstract and non-figurative art which had become common in the pioneering art centers of the West following the World War II, soon influenced Turkish artists as well. The middle generation masters such as Ali Hadi Bara and Zühtü Müridoğlu as well as the young generation of artists of the period such as İlhan Koman, Kuzgun Acar gravitated towards the first abstractions in the late 1940s. In the early 1950s, the first examples of a completely non-figurative abstract sculpture appeared. This new sculptural understanding that was centered in the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts brought with it new materials and technical possibilities. The opening of a wood workshop in 1953 and metal workshop in 1954 within the school was a reflection of the attempt to make use of these materials within the education system.

Türk Grup Espas (Turkish Group Space) comprising of artists such as İlhan Koman, Tarık Carım, Ali Hadi Bara and Sadi Öziş, who defended the idea of the synthesis of plastic arts in Istanbul in relation to the close relationships established with art centers abroad, was shaped in 1955 during these developments. The same year, İlhan Koman and Sadi Öziş set up and worked in the Kare Metal atelier which produced furniture based on the functionality of art.

The revival in arts in Istanbul from the 1950s led to new exhibition areas and more exhibitions being shown. Sculptures were exhibited as a natural result of this situation. The Maya Arts Gallery in İstiklal Street was where innovative art from all generations was exhibited between 1950 and 1955. The works of young sculptors such as Kuzgun Acar, Ali Teoman Germaner, Şadi Çalık using new materials and concepts were exhibited regularly in places such as the French Consulate, the Fine Arts Academy, the American News Center and the Istanbul City Gallery which was active in the mid-1950s. Ali Hadi Bara exhibited his non-figurative iron statues in the Turkish Painting and Sculpture Exhibition hosted in the salons of the Fine Arts Academy in 1954 when the International Art Critics Congress was held. One year later, abstract sculptures became prominent in the Exhibition of Academy Lecturers Trained in Paris, which was organized at the salons of the French Consulate. İlhan Koman’s demountable and mobile peddler store took part in this exhibition. Sadi Çalik exhibited his Minimum statue in his exhibition at the American News Center. This is considered the first minimalist work in Turkey. While Istanbul became the center of experimental and innovative approaches to Turkish art in the 1950s, sculpture seemed to have undertaken the leadership of these approaches. It is striking that the sculpture exhibitions of foreign artists such as the German Norbert Kricke and Peter Steyer, and the American John Rhoden, were opened in Istanbul in the 1950s.

One of the most important sculpture projects of this period consisted of the statues and embossments of the Anitkabir (Atatürk’s Mausoleum) construction between 1951 and 1953. İlhan Koman prepared the project of large reliefs at the entrance of Anitkabir and won the competition. The artist worked with Sadi Öziş, Müridoğlu and Bara in applying the reliefs prepared in the yard of the Suleymaniye Mosque in the most efficacious way.

An international competition was held for the erection of monuments in honour of Mehmet the Conqueror and Süleyman I the Magnificient with the approval of the Committee of Ancient Arts and Monuments in 1956. A list of important artists of the twentieth century was prepared in a comprehensive report written for the realization of this project. However, this project was not carried out. The making of the monument of Mehmet the Conqueror in Istanbul was completed in 1987 by the work of the sculptor Hüseyin Gezer.

Artists such as Gürdal Duyar, Nermin Faruki, Haluk Tezonar, Sadi Öziş, Kuzgun Acar, Tamer Başoğlu, Ferit Özşen and Mehmet Aksoy took part in the exhibitions of the Taksim Art Gallery, the Gallery I, the Darüşşafaka Arts Gallery and the Istanbul Turkish-German Cultural Center, which attracted attention by hosting art activities in 1960s. An exhibition of the famous sculptor Henry Moore was opened in the Academy of Fine arts in the 1960s. German artist, Karl Schlamminger carried out a happening with the students at the academy. Thus, the first examples of approaches that would present a new depiction, style and material possibilities to the art of sculpture took place in Istanbul once again and initially at the academy.

The most striking public statue of the 1960s was the wall statue Birds by Kuzgun Acar in Unkapanı Drapers Market in 1966.

Developments After 1970

8- The statue of the martyrs of plane in Fatih District

9- Statue of Republic in Taksim

Installation and performance style works that were seen in Turkish art in Istanbul in the 1970s expanded the boundaries and meaning of sculpture for the first time. Füsun Onur carried out a sculpture installation in the Taksim Art Gallery in 1970. Artists such as Sarkis, Şükrü Aysan, Nil Yalter, Ayşe Erkmen, Erdağ Aksel along with Onur, represented the changing styles, materials, techniques and depiction of sculpture. The New Tendencies exhibitions that took place between 1977 and 1987, witnessed the pioneering applications of a new art and sculpting style. The first Istanbul Biennial, which took place in 1987, became an important platform for current arts to become more widespread due to its international character. In 2005, the Ninth Biennial exhibition of Serkan Özkaya’s twice-as-large copy of Michelangelo’s David statue, which collapsed during the set-up phase, and Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin’s copy of the Triumphal Quadriga, that was placed at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, after being taken from Istanbul by the Crusaders in the thirteenth century, are striking examples of the biennial-sculpture cooperation. The second work is particularly important in relation to the sculptural history of Istanbul.

The increase in the number of the art galleries in Istanbul in 1970s was striking. There was also an increase in the presentation of arts to the public in terms of quality and quantity. Although paintings were primarily exhibited in galleries, sculptures also started appearing. As a result of evaluating the demand and supply, there was an increase in the production of small scale sculptures. The Istanbul Art Fair, the first of which was organized in 1991, and other art fairs that developed after 2000 have been the venues where a wider audience was introduced to sculpture as well as other works of art.

The sculpture exhibitions became more common during the second half of the 1990s.

Retrospective exhibitions over the last 20 years devoted to well known names in Turkish sculpture such as Zühtü Müridoğlu and İlhan Koman, is another subject to be addressed. The Memory and Scale exhibition organized in 2006 in the Istanbul Modern, that opened in 2004, formed a retrospective of the art of sculpture. There was a retrospective evaluation of Turkish sculpture in the Modern and Beyond exhibition organized at Santral İstanbul in 2008. The exhibition, that comprised of the works of the great French master of sculpture Rodin in the Sabanci Museum in 2006, was the most influential and attractive sculpture exhibition in Istanbul. The Ernst Barlach sculpture exhibition was another notable event which was organized in the Tophane-i Amire building a little before the Rodin exhibition.

10- Statue of Atatürk in Sarayburnu

11- The monument of Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa in Beşiktaş

There were consistent attempts to promote Istanbul as a city of sculpture as well as many practices that were irrelevant to artistic quality in a period when there was a sharp increase towards sculpture practices in the city’s public spheres. The erection of 20 statues in different parts of the city in collaboration with the municipality, the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Applied Fine Arts was one of these attempts. Şadi Çalık’s stainless steel abstract statue in Galatasaray Square is the result of these efforts and can still be seen there today. However, most of the others were not as permanent. Kuzgun Acar’s functional abstract metal statue in Gulhane Park which could be used by people having a picnic in the park, was moved soon afterwards and disappeared. Gürdal Duyar’s nude female statue called Beautiful Istanbul in Karakoy Square, was considered obscene and moved further afield to Yildiz Park. The Association of Turkish Sculptors organized the Nude Women Statues exhibition in order to protest against this.

İlhan Koman’s Akdeniz statue is one of the most significant examples of sculpture in public spheres. It was placed in front of the headquarters of an insurance company in Zincirlikuyu, and is considered to be one of Istanbul’s symbolic statues. Exhibiting sculptures in different parts of the city was in question as the city inevitably expanded and became more crowded. Public statues became limited in number in areas where social life was lively and business centers were developing.

On the 70th anniversary of the Republic in 1993, sculptures were produced within the scope of The Activity of Placing Three-Dimensional Contemporary Art Works in Open Areas so that they could be placed in the different public spheres of Istanbul. Among these works was Ayşe Erkmen’s Open Column in Tunel Square, which was covered with polystyrene to stand out, but it was set on fire and destroyed during the hosting of the Yaya Exhibitions 2 in 2006. Some of the statues placed in different parts of the city were moved while some of them were damaged along with Meriç Hızal’s Open Door in Uskudar and Rahmi Aksungur’s marble statue Distinguished Guests in Maçka Park.

In 1994, ten stone statues were placed in the park across from the municipality building in Saraçhane under the auspices of the Sculpture Competition for Secularism and Democracy Martyrs Monument Park, which was one of the sculpture projects of the local government. One of these was Handan Börüteçene’s Istanbul Book, which came first in this competition.

Mehmet Aksoy’s marble Cybele Fountain statue made in 2001 is in a protected area in a business center in 4. Levent. It is a fact that the inclusion of sculpture in public spheres by being partly isolated from the Istanbul’s crowds and traffic had more positive outcomes for the fate of sculpture.

The continuation of projects for the placement of sculptures in public areas, through the evaluation of historical, social, cultural and topographical components of the Statue City of Istanbul seem to be one of the most significant necessities of the city in the 21st century.


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This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.