Heroic Turkish art conquers the Royal Academy

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It is a story of conquering heroes and courtly poetry, of nomadic tribes and legendary rulers with names like Tamburlaine and Suleyman the Magnificent that have echoed down the centuries.

It is a story of conquering heroes and courtly poetry, of nomadic tribes and legendary rulers with names like Tamburlaine and Suleyman the Magnificent that have echoed down the centuries.

Turks, the new blockbuster exhibition at the Royal Academy, brings together 350 treasures, from calligraphy to ceramics, to reveal 1,000 years of the Turkic people from AD600.

Anyone expecting a history of modern-day Turkey will discover that the Turks embraced a complicated web of tribes who moved westwards from the eastern borders of Central Asia to the Balkans of Eastern Europe.

What united people, such as the Uighurs, the Seljuk, the Timurid and the Turkman, were their roots in a common Turkish language and the rise of the silk trade, which opened routes between the Mediterranean and Asia.

They embraced religions, including Manichaeism, Buddhism and Christianity, but ended up largely Islamic, which makes the exhibition the first primarily Islamic show at the Royal Academy since 1931.

Norman Rosenthal, the exhibition secretary, said: "This is a complicated story, of small tribes that became huge empires, but we're telling it with great works of art, things of incredible beauty."

Nazan Olcer, director of the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul which, with the Topkapi Saray Museum, has lent many of its most prized objects including some not displayed in Turkey, said the exhibition was a source of pride and joy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, said that the Turkish government was delighted to have collaborated on a landmark exhibition.

The works have come from 11 countries and 37 lenders, including the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the Louvre and the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

One of the treasures is a sequence of 15th-century paintings attributed to Muhammad Siyah Qalam, known as Muhammad of the Black Pen, which reflects the lives of the nomadic Turkic communities.

The Royal Academy, which has been forced to tighten its belt to balance budgets, has much riding on the exhibition. Advance ticket sales have been brisk and sponsors have raised nearly £800,000, the most successful campaign in the academy's history.

Tickets cost £11 and the exhibition runs from Saturday until 12 April.

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