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x0x A painter by the side of Mehmed the Conqueror

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    x0x A painter by the side of Mehmed the Conqueror By Omer Kokal Alfred Hitchcock, that unforgettable director of horror films, always appeared in one scene of
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2004
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      x0x A painter by the side of Mehmed the Conqueror

      By Omer Kokal

      Alfred Hitchcock, that unforgettable director of horror films, always
      appeared in one scene of his films. This brief glimpse was his unique
      signature. In 1899, the year that Hitchcock was born, a Turkish artist
      portrayed himself among the figures in one of his paintings. This
      painting depicting the entry of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror into
      Istanbul through Topkapi Gate in 1453 is familiar to many people in
      Turkey from reproductions in history books. Beside the grey horse on
      which the sultan is mounted walks a janissary holding a long-barrelled
      gun. This janissary is the artist Hasan Riza (1857-1912), a colourful
      personality known for his wit and humour. It was quite in character
      for him to introduce a private joke of this kind into an otherwise
      serious painting.

      Hasan Riza was born in Uskudar (Scutari), a district of Istanbul on
      the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. In his memoirs he relates that his
      passion for art began as a child, when he annoyed his parents by
      drawing pictures with a lump of charcoal on the wall of the house. Two
      wars were to play a crucial part in his life. The Ottoman-Russian War
      of 1877-1878 opened new doors for him, while the Balkan War closed
      them for ever.

      During his final year at the Naval College on the island of
      Heybeliada, Hasan Riza volunteered for service in the Ottoman-Russian
      War, and was sent as a private to join a regiment on the Russian
      frontier. There he was assigned as guard to an Italian journalist who
      was both reporting on the war and making masterful drawings of the
      battle scenes he witnessed that greatly impressed the young soldier.

      One day Hasan Riza drew a charcoal portrait of the elderly journalist
      and showed it to him.

      The journalist was surprised at this skill displayed by an ordinary
      soldier, and a friendship grew up between them. When the war ended and
      Hasan Riza returned to the naval college, he frequently visited the
      Italian journalist, who was also living on Heybeliada, and under his
      fried'sd guidance improved his drawing skills. That same year Hasan
      Riza was appointed to restore the paintings and decoration in the
      cabins of Sultan Abdulhamid's yacht, and performed the task so well
      that the minister of naval affairs made him an officer before he had
      even graduated. But Hasan Riza was already determined to become an
      artist, and with the encouragement of the Italian journalist went to
      Italy as soon as he left college. For the next ten years he studied in
      the studios of various artists in Naples, Rome and Florence, and then
      travelled to Egypt, where he studied Egyptian art for two years.

      After returning to Turkey he opened a studio in Karaagac, a small town
      near Edirne, where he painted many portraits of famous people and a
      series of paintings depicting the foremost events and battles of
      Ottoman history. In the quiet atmosphere of Karaagac he was able to
      devote himself to his work, and his output was prolific.

      Unfortunately, very few of his historical paintings have survived.

      Among the few in existence today are paintings of the Siege of Vienna
      and the Battle of Belgrade in the Military Museum, 'The Transportation
      of the Conqueror's Ships Overland before the Siege of Istanbul' and
      'The Conqueror Marching with His Army from Edirne to Istanbul' in the
      Naval Museum, and the Siege of Eger and the Battle of Mohacs in Ankara
      Officers Club.

      From his paintings it is clear that Hasan Riza had an extensive
      knowledge of history, and his figures display a masterful grasp of
      anatomy. His sense of composition is evident in even the most confused
      battle scenes, which he depicted with realism. He worked in charcoal,
      Indian ink, pastel and oils. During his years in Edirne Hasan Riza
      also served as headmaster of the city's art college, and trained many
      young people as artists. With the outbreak of the Balkan War, Hasan
      Riza was put in charge of Edirne Hospital. When news was received that
      the Bulgarian army had entered the city, he set out for Karaagac to
      rescue his paintings, but was killed on the way. Many of the paintings
      in his studio were destroyed or looted, some being taken to Sofia, and
      others turning up years later in Vienna Museum.

      Those that remained were eventually brought back to Istanbul. As well
      as the six already mentioned, some can be seen in the Museum of Fine
      Arts in Istanbul, and a few are in private collections.

      * Omer Kokal is a photographer and freelance writer
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