Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Friedrich Sarre and the Discovery of Seljuk Anatolia

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Friedrich Sarre and the Discovery of Seljuk Anatolia

Article excerpt

The German art historian Friedrich Sarre (1865-1945) is well known for his role in the excavations of the Abbasid palaces of Samarra (Iraq) from 1911-13, which he directed together with Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948), and as the director of the Islamic collection in the Berlin Museums from 1921 until 1931. Less well studied is Sarre's work on Seljuk art and architecture, which presents some of the earliest studies of the subject during a period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Islamic art history was a nascent academic field. Sarre's work on medieval Anatolia has been analysed neither in the context of early studies on Seljuk architecture, nor in the general account of the emergence of Islamic art history as a field of scholarship. In a recent article, Oya Pancaro?lu has focused on Sarre's first book on Anatolia, Reise in Kleinasien (Journey in Anatolia).1 This travel account is based on Sarre's exploration of the area in 1895, which lead to his wider interest in Islamic architecture. Sarre's later work, however, much of which also includes work on the Seljuk monuments of Konya and on Seljuk art more broadly, has not yet been investigated in the context of the early art historical literature on Seljuk Anatolia. Sarre's work remains rooted in the earlier vein of scholarship on Islamic art, particularly valuing Persianate objects and buildings.

Thus, this article argues that, unlike many scholars who worked on the arts of Anatolia in the 1920s and 1930, after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, Sarre didn't focus on the region as the cradle of a nation, nor did he study Seljuk art as an expression of Turkish culture. Hence, his viewpoint provides a corrective to the narrative of Seljuk architecture as it emerges within the context of Turkish nation building in the 1920s and 1930s. To a large extent, Sarre's work stood at the tail end of a long tradition of German scholarly work within the Ottoman Empire based on the good diplomatic relations between the two governments.

Historiographical studies of early scholarship on medieval Anatolia have emerged in recent years, some focusing on the period before the 1914-18 war and the end of the Ottoman Empire, while others discuss the changes to art historical discourse after the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.2

Sarre's publications share the fate of being understudied with other early studies on Islamic architecture in Anatolia, such as those of Max van Berchem (1864- 1921), the Swiss epigrapher who is better known for his work on Arabic inscriptions elsewhere in the Islamic world, and of the French Jesuit Guillaume de Jerphanion (1877-1948) who documented Byzantine and Islamic monuments in Anatolia in the first decade of the twentieth century.3 However, these early twentieth-century scholars' studies are invaluable for their photographic documentation and descriptions of the state of buildings that have often greatly deteriorated over the course of the twentieth century. In a survey of studies on Turkish architecture published up to 1971, Howard Crane pointed out the shortcomings of these early publications in that they lack socio-cultural context in their analyses, while acknowledging their systematic nature.4 While such context is indeed in part lacking, the contribution of these early scholars in recording Seljuk art and architecture, and presenting it as a subject of study to art historians and archaeologists outside the Ottoman Empire (and later Turkey) is nevertheless considerable.

Sarre's publications span across the end of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, even though, as will be shown below, they are better placed in the context of Ottoman-German relations before the 1914-18 war. A closer look at Sarre's work is also justified by his early interventions in the study of Islamic art in Germany and the importance of his collection for the Berlin Museums. Sarre's work on the Seljuk monuments of Konya is to be considered within the context of its time, when the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire were in close contact over the construction of the Baghdad railway, and negotiations over cultural artefacts often ended favourably for German museums. …

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