In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Turquerie

  • Introduction
  • Artists
  • Pre-1700
  • Masquerade
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Art History Turquerie
Nebahat Avcioglu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0165


Turquerie (often anglicized as “Turkery”) is a growing subject of interest within the humanities. It emerged in the 1990s at the crossroads of major trajectories of 18th-century studies, in line with the rise of visual studies and global art history. Originally it was largely a French school of thought. Turquerie, a French word, does not appear in the OED, unlike chinoiserie (also a French word). Le Littré defines it after Molière as a “Turkish-like behavior,” and the Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française as an “artistic or literary composition [produced in Europe] whose theme or picturesque details are borrowed from Turkish culture and oriental forms.” This heterogeneous body of forms, images, material culture, and attitudes has attracted compelling scholarship in the last twenty-five years grounded in a wider history of the shifting relationship between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Early definitions of turquerie do not provide an exhaustive time frame. The earliest study by French diplomat Auguste Boppe, published in 1911 (see Boppe 1989 [cited under Surveys and Overviews]), focused primarily on the 18th century, the era of reciprocal diplomatic relations between France and the Ottoman Empire. Boppe was writing as a diplomat himself in Istanbul while the Ottoman Empire was still ongoing (albeit just). This is important to note because the subsequent scholarship, burdened by hindsight, often associates the rise in turquerie with the weakening and eventual demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Boppe’s study provided a comprehensive taxonomy of the European gaze upon the Orient in the 18th century. Actual traveling artists and armchair orientalists formed the corpus of his paintings, filled with Turkish iconography, including images of Istanbul, turbaned figures, ladies of the harem, etc. His emphasis on the 18th century also organically linked turquerie to the Enlightenment, thus foregrounding the topography of subsequent scholarship exploring European expansion, travel, diplomacy, and liberty in ideas and self-fashioning as well as of technological discoveries, which went hand in hand with an interest in, and a discursive instrumentalization of, the “Other.” This approach is both challenged and advocated by subsequent studies. Some scholars variously mark the beginning of turquerie with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, to draw attention to the longue durée historicity of Ottoman-European relations. Others, focusing on intensification of trade and mobility, date its origins to around the period of the failed Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. While little consensus may exist as to when it all began, most art historical studies are still deeply indebted to Boppe’s writings. Yet, where to place the chronological curser has been important for questioning the role of France as the sole inventor of turquerie or for stressing the importance of including architecture and ephemera, such as pamphlets, popular entertainment, and warfare material, into its histories. These approaches effectively pluralized the subject of turqueries. Building on Boppe’s inaugural vision, the field of turquerie expanded beyond national and disciplinarian boundaries fueled by post-structuralism, new historicism, and cultural studies. Edward Said’s pioneering concept of orientalism (1978) reanimated the study of turquerie centered on issues of cross-cultural encounters and identity politics. On a thematic level the literature has been remarkably consistent on its main motifs: the harem, the despot, the turban, the tulip, the sofa, etc. A move has been under way recently to open up this visual repertoire to the intrinsic fluidity of cultures and the dialectics of self and other. I would like to thank D’Arcy Blake, Angela Conant, Anna Cone, Tyler Considine, Valentina Digiacomo, Ellen Enderle, Lorraine Robinson, Shoshanah Rosen, Sandra Servat, and Julie Treumann, who took my Research Methods Seminar at Hunter College in Spring 2020, for their assistance with the preparation of this article.

General Research Resources

No basic research tools, such as surveys or databases, are available for studying turquerie. but a body of scholarship with broad overviews and a thematic focus is growing. Nevertheless, a rich and complex historiographical tradition exists. Since the early 2000s the topic has also become a publishing phenomenon with the appearance of coffee-table volumes and glossy magazines.

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