Art Treasures of Turkey

At the MFA through December 31

The current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, "Art Treasures of Turkey," is a remarkably heterogeneous collection of 282 pieces done in Anatolia from 6000 B.C. through the sixteenth century A.D. It clearly illustrates the influence of civilizations on one another, the changes in style of a major mode caught in a peripheral age, and the exuberant flourishing of native Turkish art.

There are fertility idols from 6000 years ago, Trojan jewelry predating the Trojan War by a millennium, Hittite art, and works done under Assyrian, Greek, and Roman domination. Religious objects, ceremonial paraphernalia, pottery and tableware are as much documents of Anatolian civilization as portraits of Trajan and exquisite manuscript illustrations.

The problem with the exhibit is that no real continuity of style emerges; no extended comparison or unified pattern of depiction unites things. In a sense, it is very much a dazzling storehouse of treasures and little more.

There are, however, interesting ways to use the unusual exhibit. Comparisons can be made between the Greek-influenced pottery and statues of the Archaic through Hellenistic period to be found here and those to be found in the Classical galleries. Compare the intricate detail and delicacy of Ottoman armor with the medieval armor of Western Europe, or a section of the Ottoman Koran with a medieval manuscript.

Examining single objects in depth can also be rewarding here. Closely investigate the Ferman (signature) of Sultan Suleiman a calligraphic masterpiece, or a large fragment of a sixteenth century map of the world that was thought to lie on the outer edges of the Atlantic.

Technically, there is no Turkish art at all at the exhibit. No objects date from the founding of the Turkish Republic and few are the work of the Seljuk or Ottoman Turks.

Some of the other more interesting pieces include: a pleasantly simple cauldron of the eighth century B.C. that combines utility and decoration in smooth, clean lines, a magnificent portrait head of Alexander the Great, a seventeenth century jade ewer inlaid with gold and set with rubies and emeralds, intricate and enormous carpets, miniaturist painting and goldware of the second millennium B.C.

The MFA provides some excellent aids for appreciating the exhibit. A catalogue includes four readable introductions by scholars on "The Art of Anatolia Until 1200 B.C.," "Early Iron Age, Classical and Roman Empire," "The Byzantine Period," and "The Islamic." A lecture series during December includes discussions of rugs and textiles, architecture, and painting. Topkapi, a film set in an Istanbul palace-museum, will be shown over the next two weekends. Five concerts of native Turkish music will be performed on traditional instruments during December, and recorded tours are available.

The exhibit itself is well-arranged and well-lighted. The pieces are set in spaces appropriate to their size and force.