Royal Academy plans blockbuster exhibition showing 1,000 years of Turkey's culture

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The Independent Online

The Royal Academy of Arts is to stage a landmark exhibition of Turkish art treasures in a show designed to rival the phenomenal success of Aztecs two years ago.

The Royal Academy of Arts is to stage a landmark exhibition of Turkish art treasures in a show designed to rival the phenomenal success of Aztecs two years ago.

That drew nearly 500,000 visitors last year, and a similar figure is expected for "Turks: A Journey Of A Thousand Years" (from 600 till 1600).

The Western visitors will marvel at the intricate and ornate balance of colour, geometry and design of traditional Islamic art, through textiles, manuscripts, calligraphy, woodwork, metalwork and ceramics, in the most important event of its kind to be staged by the RA for more than 70 years.

Partly funded with "hundreds of thousands of pounds" from the Turkish government, the exhibition is intended to show the breadth of Turkish artistic diversity. It will feature more than 350 works of art - many of which have never been seen outside Turkey - and begins just a month after the European Council is to decide on giving Turkey a date for accession talks.

"The Turkish government is delighted to be collaborating with the Royal Academy of Arts on this important exhibition," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, yesterday.

"This promises to be a landmark exhibition, giving a unique insight into the extraordinary artistic legacy of the Turks."

Drawn primarily from the celebrated collections of the Topkap Saray Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art of Istanbul, the exhibition is intended to explore the development of Turkic cultures, as they forged their way westwards across the eastern borders of central Asia to the Balkans of eastern Europe.

It is evident from the artefacts on show that between 600 and 1600 the Turkic peoples, through their nomadic wanderings, appropriated and assimilated the new cultures they encountered.

Beginning with examples of the art of the Uigurs, a nomadic race who rose to prominence in the seventh century at the crossroads of the Silk Route in central Asia, the exhibition goes on to explore three empires: the Seljuks (1040-1243), the Timurids (1370-1500), and the Ottomans between 1453 and 1600.

Through a 1,000-year period these individual peoples, with a string of charismatic leaders, strategic brilliance and military power, were able to conquer vast areas, inspiring artists of the time to reach new heights of creativity.

Among the work on display will be a 13th-century Seljuk carpet from the mosque built for Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad in Konya, and a unique Timurid architecture scroll 30 metres long.

There will also be elaborate manuscripts by Siyah Qalem - "Mohamed of the Black Pen" - one of the greatest treasures of the Topkap Saray library - and a wealth of Ottoman treasures, including an armoured kaftan of Mehmed "the Conqueror".

Also on show will be mosaic wooden doors designed by the great architect Sinan for the harem, the private living quarters of the sultan; and the ceremonial sword of Suleyman "the Magnificent". Considering that much of the exhibition was brought together and organised in less than a year after the Iraq war scuppered plans for an Egyptian exhibition, the Royal Academy believes it will prove to be a major attraction.

"This is going to be a big blockbuster show and one which will appeal to a broad public," a spokeswoman said.

"The exhibition will continue the RA's tradition of hosting outstanding exhibitions exploring world cultures and will be the first such major exhibition at the RA since the highly popular and critically acclaimed International Exhibition of Persian Art in 1931".

The exhibition will be also be supported by an extensive programme of workshops, gallery talks, teachers' evenings, and focus days to suit all ages, as well as a series of lectures by leading academics and important Turkish figures.