After the death of the German director of the Imperial Museum (today's Istanbul Archaeological Museums), Dr. Philip Anton Dethiér, he was appointed by Abdulhamid II as the director of the museum on September 4, 1881, and he opened a new era in the history of Turkish museums.
Osman Hamdi Bey remained the director of the museum until 1919, i.e. 29 years long, and during this period, the museum became one of the prominent ones in the world and made many important archaeological explorations possible. .
Osman Hamdi Bey, the son of İbrahim Edhem Pasha, who had climbed up to the office of Grand Vizier as a statesman and who had been one of the first four students sent by the Ottoman Empire abroad, played a very important role concerning Ottoman culture, arts and science.
He was born on December 30, 1842 in İstanbul and he went to Paris in 1857 to study law. However, his interest in fine arts led him to painting and he took lessons from then famous painters. Additionally, he attended archaeology courses during his training period. He participated in the Paris Exposition held when he was in Paris.
After returning to İstanbul in 1869, he worked at different positions as a civil servant. In 1873, he participated in the World Exposition held in Vienna as the first commissar. After the death of the German director of the Imperial Museum (today's Istanbul Archaeological Museums), Dr. Philip Anton Dethiér, he was appointed by Sultan Abdulhamid II as the director of the museum on September 4, 1881, and he opened a new era in the history of Turkish museums. Osman Hamdi Bey remained the director of the museum until 1919, i.e. 29 years long, and during this period, the museum became one of the prominent ones in the world and made many important archaeological explorations possible.
One of the most important factors behind Osman Hamdi Bey's appointment as the new director of the museum was his articles in the first private newspapers of that era, Ceride-i Havadis and Ruzaname-i Ceride-i Havadis, on the value of ancient artifacts and their protection. Osman Hamdi Bey attracted interest, since he wrote that foreigners were taking our ancient artifacts away.
After becoming the director of the museum, one of the first steps taken by Osman Hamdi Bey was preparing a regulation (Asar-ı Atika Nizamnamesi - Ancient Artifacts Regulation) prohibiting artifacts found during excavations carried out by foreigners from being smuggled abroad. The regulation prepared by Dr. Dethiér in 1874 had not included provisions aimed at preventing artifacts found within the Ottoman borders from being shipped to foreign countries. The regulation written by Osman Hamdi Bey in 1883 (1883 Asar-ı Atika Nizamnamesi) solved this problem.
Osman Hamdi Bey scientifically re-arranged the collection of 650 items that had been stored in the Tiled Kiosk before his directorship. Those items, which had been piled up in the museum, were recorded, repaired and exhibited thanks to his efforts.
He establishes the disciplines to control the archaeological works carried out throughout the country centrally and initiates the first Turkish excavations. Thanks to the excavations between 1883 and 1895 in Pergamon (Bergama), Mount Nemrut, Sidon, Lagina Hekate Sanctuary and Royal Necropolis in Sidon, the collection expanded very rapidly.
During his directorship, besides intensively dealing with the museum and archaeological works, he continued to paint as well. He opened Ottoman Empire's first faculty of fine arts, Sanayi-i Nefise, and became the director of this school. The building of today's Ancient Orient Museum was the building of the school of fine arts established by Osman Hamdi Bey to train students in the areas of museum studies, fine arts and architecture.
As a painter, he became famous while he was alive. He worked on compositions with figures and portraits, and he was the first Turkish artist who painted figures. In his paintings, there are many architectural and decorative details. He frequently appears as the main character; he used photos taken of him in different outfits and poses for his drawings. Today, many domestic and foreign museum collections include his paintings as well.
Osman Hamdi Bey, who left many important traces in the history of Turkish museums and painting, died in 1910 in his waterside residence in Kuruçeşme (İstanbul) and buried in the garden of his house in Eskihisar (Kocaeli), in conformity with his will. He was buried with a state ceremony, two unnamed Seljuk tombstones were erected at both ends of his grave and his epitaph was inscribed on a different stone. His house in Eskihisar, of which plans had been drawn by the order of him, was transformed into a museum that has been opened to visitors in 1987.
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