Mesher is an exhibition space in Istanbul’s famed Istiklal Street. In its third exhibition, it is showcasing 210 exceptional artefacts selected from the vast collections of Sadberk Hanim Museum.

“Sadberk Hanim Museum is Turkey’s first private museum,” the guides excitedly tell TRT World during the tour. Located in a seaside mansion owned by the Koc family, the museum was established in 1980 to honour the memory of Sadberk Koc, industrialist Vehbi Koc’s late wife, and her wish to display her collection of exquisite pieces she amassed during her lifetime.

As Chairman of Koc Holding Omer M. Koc writes in the Foreword of the catalogue of the exhibition, Preserving the Past: A Selection from the Sadberk Hanim Museum, “Traditional Ottoman women’s costumes, embroideries, tughra marked silverware and European and Turkish porcelain that Sadberk Koc collected with appreciative discernment from her youth, formed the nucleus of the museum collection. As time passed, the collection rapidly expanded with new acquisitions, some purchased at auctions in Turkey and abroad, others presented as donations.”

Omer M. Koc continues to say that “In particular the collection of the legendary collector Huseyin Kocabas was acquired from his heirs after his death with the permission of the Turkish Ministry of Culture.” It was with this purchase that the Sadberk Hanim Museum expanded in range, from the Ottoman period to prehistoric Anatolia.

The daughter of Vehbi and Sadberk Koc, Sevgi Gonul, in 1985.
The daughter of Vehbi and Sadberk Koc, Sevgi Gonul, in 1985. (Courtesy of Mesher)

The daughter of Vehbi and Sadberk Koc, Sevgi Gonul, has told in an interview with the Turkish daily Hurriyet in December 2001: “At that time in Istanbul [when I accompanied my late mother on shopping excursions], there were very few knowledgeable antique dealers of the kind we know today, and no educated flea market sellers. Finding something that no one else had noticed was difficult, but gave my mother and I lots of pleasure.”

Sevgi Gonul was key in realising and enhancing the Sadberk Hanim Museum, which opened two years after Sadberk Koc’s passing in 1978, and was the chairperson of its executive committee from the museum’s establishment until her death in 2003.

The collection has now reached more than 19,000 pieces, and the museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The anniversary exhibition at the Sadberk Hanim Museum is a large exhibition called Motif, and there is a smaller exhibition at Mesher called Preserving the Past thanks to a collaboration between the two Vehbi Koc Foundation (VKV) institutions.

Figurine of Cupid seated on a cockerel. Terracotta. Roman Period, 1st century AD
Figurine of Cupid seated on a cockerel. Terracotta. Roman Period, 1st century AD (Courtesy of Mesher)

The exhibition at Mesher, curated by Hulya Bilgi, with selections from the Sadberk Hanim Museum, spans three floors, and what an exhibition it is. ‘Floor 0’ is dedicated to Anatolian archaeological artefacts going back hundreds of years BCE to prehistoric times. They are small and intricately crafted objects, ready for their time in the spotlight as they deserve, interspersed with statuettes from the Greek and Roman times.

The highlight on this floor may be the bust of Philetairos, sculpted from marble during the Roman period, dating back to the 1st century AD. There is also a Lydian coin, dating back to 6th century BCE, depicting a lion and according to the guide, a bull, with the lion symbolising the Lydians and the bull, with its bowed head, their enemies. The same floor holds Old Assyrian cuneiform tablets, which are fascinating to reflect on as they had the same concerns as today’s folk: for example, a court decree, a letter, a housing contract. There are also sacrificial artefacts that once held wine or blood, guide Hazal Arik says.

The prehistoric and early historic items are mostly geometric while Hellenistic and Roman artefacts depict humans and deities running, fighting or otherwise in action. These include pottery and figurines made out of molded clay and terracotta, one of which miraculously has kept its painted colours intact. There are two figurines of Heracles, depicting his labours. Visitors can also view the Greek influence on Roman art in the terracotta figurines of Aphrodite and Eros or the marble sculptures of Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia.

Bust of Philetairos. Marble, Roman Period, 1st century AD
Bust of Philetairos. Marble, Roman Period, 1st century AD (Courtesy of Mesher)

Nur Ozel, guide, points out the Roman glass display that grew out of Mesopotamian culture’s glass beads. The Roman glass is blown to be used as vessels for the aristocracy. Some glass is cut because clear glass was not preferable at that time, she adds. The glass on display comes from the city of Sagalassos in southwestern Turkey, in Burdur province.

‘Floor 1’ is dedicated to the Seljuk period’s fine metalsmithing, which are not only crafted well, but are also intricately decorated with geometric motifs. There are also Ottoman artefacts, such as a ship’s lantern made of gilt copper that is a globe made out of interlaced circles, always holding the candle upright. There are also examples of plates from Iznik, famed for their use in the Ottoman court, and later in Ottoman households at the peak of their popularity during the end of 15th century-early 16th century. They are decorated with carnations, leaves, in blue, green and red, says guide Hakan Kokcu, as he explains the progression of the color schemes from simple to elaborate. Other cities, that is, Kutahya and Canakkale, follow in Iznik’s footsteps once its popularity is such that it cannot produce goods fast enough.

There are also samples of Beykoz blown glass and handmade samples. Finally, there are examples of an Ottoman coffee ceremony. Kokcu says coffee culture began in the Ottoman era during Suleiman the Magnificent. While explaining the coffee ceremonies in the Ottoman court, he adds that jam was offered as dessert alongside Turkish coffee. There is also a video display, screening shots from the Sadberk Hanim Museum.

Bridal outfit. Satin, lace, leather, ribbon, silver wire, green spiral wire. Ottoman, Bursa, 1909
Bridal outfit. Satin, lace, leather, ribbon, silver wire, green spiral wire. Ottoman, Bursa, 1909 (Courtesy of Mesher)

‘Floor 2’ houses textiles from the Ottoman court, including dresses and pillowcases, with handmade fabric with silken and gold threads, as well as beautiful examples of expertly drawn Islamic Ottoman calligraphy with Arabic lettering and geometric ornamentation. The dresses and caftans range from a simple everyday court dress to elaborate wedding dresses, one of which belonged to the daughter of Abdulhamid II. they are in very good condition, restored and displayed on custom made mannequins, alongside finely crafted shoes. Because of Islam’s restriction of portraiture, the crafstmen during the Ottoman era poured their talents into calligraphy, textiles, and pottery, decorated with Arabic script, gold gild, flower patterns, and the like. Visitors can also see the grand shaving kit of Abdulhamid II, complete with straight razor, comb, brush and other accoutrements made out of precious metals (gold and silver) and ivory. 

The three-floor exhibition at Mesher honouring the 40th anniversary of the Sadberk Hanim Museum is a show that is a must-see. Visitors can view the selection on display in an hour or two, and are sure to be glad to have caught it. The exhibition runs through to August 1, 2021, so there is no excuse to miss it.

Thumbnail image: Coin, electrum (alloy of gold and silver). Iron Age, 6th century BC. Western Anatolia, Lydian. Headline image: Plate (detail), ceramic. Ottoman, Iznik, c. 1570–1575. Courtesy of Mesher.

Source: TRT World