‘Anatolia. Home of eternity’ at the BOZAR – Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels

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Anatolia has long been a bridge between Europe and Asia, where numerous migrations have resulted in a fascinating cultural exchange. It is perhaps the greatest cradle of cultures in the world and has an extraordinarily rich heritage, thanks to an uninterrupted and twelve millennia-long succession of civilisations. However different these civilisations were, it is remarkable how cults and rituals were passed down, some even to this day.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels

This continuity of cults and rituals form the leitmotiv of the exhibition, which is divided into four themes: the cosmos; nature; the world of gods; and divine interventions. Each theme spans 12 millennia of rituals, from the earliest Anatolian civilisations to the Ottoman Empire. More than 200 objects, many of which have never been shown before, from more than 30 museums from the remotest corners of Turkey will illustrate the diverse, opulent Anatolian heritage and will introduce the art of the guest country.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Kultepe Idol – late 3rd early 2nd millenium BC 
[Credit: Kayseri Archaeological Museum]

The first chapter encompasses the religious interpretation of the cosmos and the veneration of celestial bodies in multiple Anatolian cultures. We will show, for instance, remarkable ritual objects from the Alacahöyük site (Bronze Age) from the Museum for Anatolian Civilisations (Ankara), carvings and sculptures from classical antiquity from the Archeological Museums of Istanbul, but also miniatures and artworks from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods from the Topkapı Palace, illustrating the worship of the heavens, constellations, sun and moon from the earliest civilisations onwards.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Seated Female Figurine – 6th Millenium BC 
[Credit: Nigde Museum]

The second chapter looks at the worship of natural phenomena (mountains, rock formations, springs, rivers, fountains) and the rituals performed to ensure the annual regeneration of nature. Reliefs or sculptures of river gods, nymphs and the tree of life illustrate nature’s central place in the rich artistic expression of the different civilisations and religions that succeeded each other on Anatolian soil, from the Bronze Age until the Ottoman period.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Twin Idol from Alacahoyuk – 3rd Millenium BC 
[Credit: Ankara Museum of Anatolia Civilizations]

The third chapter addresses the divine. We show the evolution from the oldest schematic images of man (10th millennium BC), via Neolithic mother goddesses in terracotta and aniconic stone idols (3rd millennium BC), to the correct anthropomorphic representations of divine beings. Perfect body shapes and an accurate representation of movement were only seen as of the 5th century BC in representations of Olympian gods.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Bull-shaped rhyton – Hittite period, 16th century BC 
[Credit: Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations]

This section also includes typical ‘oriental’ representations of deities: winged divine beings, animal gods, ‘Betyls’ (e.g., the famous Artemis of Ephesus) and the local Neo-Hittite goddess, Kubaba. She was later transformed into the goddess Cybele, who from the 2nd century BC, was one of the most important protective goddesses of Rome and whose cult spread throughout the Empire.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Silver rhyton – Achaemenid period, 5th / 4th century BC 
[Credit: Sadberk Hanim Museum, Istanbul]

Within monotheistic religions, we show how the first Christians coped with pagan idols and imagery, and how the image of Christ evolved over time. Given the prohibition in Islam to depict Allah and the Prophet, the Turkish Seljuks and Ottomans replaced imagery with calligraphic representations of their names through so-called ‘word portraits’ or images of the Prophet’s feet or sandals.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Statue of Tychè – Sagalassos, 2nd century AD 
[Credit: Burdur Archaeology Museum]

But within Turkish Islam – especially under the Seljuks – we see greater tolerance towards images of humans and animals in sophisticated secular architecture and crafts. We will exhibit refined mosque furniture and cult objects, as well as exquisite miniatures and textiles from different periods.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Statue of Artemis Ephesia, marble (2nd c. AD) 
[Credit: Selçuk Museum]

The places of worship of diverse Anatolian civilisations are also illustrated, based on the architectural remains of temples, Byzantine churches and mosques, elements from their interiors and exclusively, objects used in worship. We pay equal attention to offerings and altars, religious festivals and games, and to the phenomenon of pilgrimage, which has continued uninterrupted from classical antiquity to the present day Hadj.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Plate with allegory of Africa or India – Byzantine period, 6th century AD 
[Credit: Istanbul Archaeology Museums]

The fourth and last section looks at divine interventions in the world of humans. This includes among others, gods, saints and rituals ascribed with healing powers and how for centuries humans have tried to protect themselves against misfortune, including the Evil Eye.

'Anatolia. Home of eternity' at the BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Iznik tile with two peacocks – Ottoman period, 17th century 
[Credit: Sadberk Hanim Museum, Istanbul]

We also look at the relationship between religion and politics, with the personification and deification of ancient cities, and the cults of both living and deceased rulers, with masterpieces that illustrate the cult of Roman Caesars. To conclude, exclusive objects show how the rulers of both Byzantine and Ottoman courts demonstrated their superiority over their subjects via court ceremonies and ceremonial attire.

The exhibition, at the BOZAR – Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, will run until January 17, 2016.

Source: Europalia [October 24, 2015]

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