The British Museum, Muze-i Humayun and the travelling "Greek ideal" in the nineteenth century


NEW PERSPECTIVES ON TURKEY, no.50, pp.9-28, 2014 (Journal Indexed in SSCI) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Page Numbers: pp.9-28


In standard architectural history surveys, the British Museum is portrayed as an example of nineteenth-century "neoclassicism": or the "Greek revival:" Usually cited as among the motive factors in this revival are the writings about European travels and archaeological explorations in the then Ottoman lands of ancient Greece, as well as a general interest in Hellenic culture. Yet the cultural and architectural appropriation of the Hellenic is not analyzed in relation to the possible ties and tensions between European archaeological culture and the Ottoman response to antiquity. This paper is an attempt to align the British Museum's "Arcadia in Bloomsbury" with the Ottoman Imperial Museum, Muze-i Hamayun, in Istanbul, and to look at them afresh beyond the usual discourse of style. The paper analyzes the "neo-Grecian""Temple of Arts and Sciences" in London, supposedly inspired by those in Priene and Teos in the Ottoman Empire, and the Muze-i Hamayun, whose facade allegedly replicates the Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women, transported to the museum from Sidon in Lebanon by Ottoman officials, understanding them as charged manifestations of "correspondence" or "transfer" within the web of circulating ideas, models, ancient remains, travellers, and architects of the nineteenth century.