Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: The Ottomans and the Early Modern World, 1400-1600

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Join us and learn how the Ottoman expansion into Europe fostered contacts between the East and West, created a dialogue between cultures and lead to an enduring exchange of ideas and practices.

This course examines the role of the early modern Ottoman civilisation in the European Renaissance, especially in Italy. Just as commercial goods travelled between two regions, so too did cultural ideas and translations of power, pleasure, wealth and luxury. A close study of the period in Italy and Europe reveals the Ottoman Empire’s importance in shaping fundamental aspects of this historical period.


This course aims to give you an understanding of the role the Ottomans played in the Renaissance, exploding the idea that it was a purely pan-European movement.


By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • recognise the revisionist and global perspectives of the Renaissance
  • discuss the shared heritage between the Ottoman and Italian early modern civilisations
  • discuss the cultural and artistic convergence of the early modern period between the Ottomans and the Latin West
  • critically analyse the historical forces that shaped early modern civilisations.


Week 1: The Mediterranean Renaissance: A shared heritage (1400-1600)

In the early modern era, talented artists, architects and learned individuals – including the Ottoman’s Sinan and Italy’s Michelangelo – looked to the classical past for inspiration. This session looks at the shared legacy of this past in both Renaissance Italy and Renaissance Turkey and the art that was produced.

Week 2: The European and Ottoman consciousness: Perceptions of the ‘golden age’ in the early modern period (1400-1500)

The term ‘golden age’ refers to a period of peace, justice and prosperity from 15th and 16th centuries in Europe and Ottoman experience. Did the early modern scholars of the period actually believe in the ‘golden age’, or was it merely a metaphoric term? How did the Ottomans experience this period? The lecture seeks to explore the convergence of social, political and cultural ideas that transformed the early modern societies in the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

Week 3: From Ottoman Bursa to Timurid Herat: early modern Turkic representations of Prophet Muhammad’s Isra and Mi’raj

Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey (Isra) and Ascension to Heaven (Mi’raj) have inspired literary and artistic works in the Islamic world for centuries. This lecture explores artistic representations of those journeys by the Ottoman Sufi scholar Süleyman Çelebi (d.1411) and Timurid poet-artist Mir Heidar (Afghanistan, c.1436).

Week 4: The iconography of Renaissance ceremonials in the early modern world

In this session we will discuss the iconography of Renaissance court ceremonials in the 16th century. We will also discuss how the East influenced the West before the arrival of the Orientalist trend in the latter part of the 17th and 18th centuries. Finally, we will look at how the Ottoman sultans and Florentine and Venetian nobility shared similar practices, pageantries and myth-building techniques to forge their own dynastic identities.

Week 5: Renaissance women’s patronage: A comparative reading of early modern women’s patronage in Italy and Ottoman Istanbul

In this session we will examine the analogous patronage of influential women in Renaissance Italy and women of Renaissance Ottoman, Imperial Istanbul. From this perspective, there emerge similar practices in early modern women of the 16th century asserting their power and authority through architectural symbolisms. Through the feminist lens, the lecture demonstrates the presence of / absence of these influential women, making them proactive participants in early modern social dynamics.

Week 6: Negotiating Gender in the Early Modern Period: The illusion of seclusion and the metaphors of Ottoman imperial women’s sovereignty

Historically, early modern Ottoman imperial women’s architectural works have been well documented to demonstrate the sovereignty and authority of these women. It is the aim of this session to provide another viewpoint through the visual representations of processional ceremonies and the 1582 illustrated manuscript Surname-i Hümayun. Furthermore, similarities can be seen between the Ottoman imperial women’s processional and funeral ceremonies and those of Elizabethan England, showing that Renaissance women across cultures were asserting their power and sovereignty.

Week 7: Two Queens, Three Letters and Three Gifts: Metaphors of the visual language of female sovereignty in the early modern period

This session aims to challenge the misconceptions of the sultan’s private space, the imperial harem, as merely a place of sexual orgies. The Ottoman imperial women were sovereigns in their own right, as is evidenced by Safiye Sultan (d. 1619), the haseki (favourite) of Murad III and after his death in 1595, the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) of Mehmed III (d. 1603). Through her exchange of letters and gifts with Elizabeth I of England, Safiye Sultan challenges the illusion of seclusion of Ottoman imperial women and asserts her sovereignty.

Week 8: 1583: The early modern world order and the Ottoman ‘discovery’ of the Americas

Two works created at the Topkapı Palace ateliers were presented to Sultan Murad III (d.1595), the grandson of Sultan Süleyman (d.1566) in 1583: the Zubdat-al Tawarikh (Quintessence of Histories) and the Tarih-i Hind-i garbi (History of the West Indies). These represented the changing perceptions of the Ottomans towards the Europeans and the way they saw themselves on the world stage in the last quarter of the 16th century. Like Michelangelo’s Biblical narrative on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Zubdat-al Tawarikh visually illustrates (at a much smaller scale) the Qur’anic narrative of the lives of the prophets. The manuscript is religious in tone, but the subtext conveys the political worldview of the Ottomans at the end of the Süleymanic Age (1583). Tarih-i Hind-i garbi, on the other hand, illustrates and propagates Murad III’s curiosity of the New World signifying the Ottomans' interest beyond their borders. This session focuses on these manuscripts, which reinforce the idea of an ideal ruler, dynastic family, state, military might, faith, and good versus evil, where for the Ottomans, the Islamic faith triumphs at the end.

Intended audience

Anyone with an interest in art history.

Delivery style

  • Lecture with audio-visual presentation
  • Discussion with interactive Q&A
  • Analysing written and visual sources
  • Researching materials and images of art works when required


Please bring a notebook and pen, laptop, or tablet for the research tasks and note taking.

Recommended reading

Abulafia, D 2011, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, Oxford University Press, New York.

Aksan, V and Goffman, D eds., 2007, The Early Modern Ottomans: Remapping the Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Aksit, I 2005, The Mystery of the Ottoman Harem, Aksit Kültür Ve Turizm Yayıncıl, Istanbul.

Ali, M 1982, Counsel for Sultans of 1581, Translated by Andreas Tietze, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna.

Andrea, B 2007, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Atasoy, N and Bragner, R 1997, 1582 Surname-i Hümayun: An Imperial Celebration, Koçbank, Istanbul.

Braudel, F 1987, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol. VI, Fontana Press, London.

Burke, P 1995, “Concepts of the 'golden age' in the Renaissance”, Süleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World, edited by Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead, pp. 154-160, Longman, London and New York.

Casale, G 2010, The Ottoman Age of Exploration, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York.

Çelebi, S 1957, The Mevlidi Sherif, translated by Lyman MacCallum, John Murray, London.

Gombrich, EH 1961, “Renaissance and Golden Age”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 24, pp. 306-309.

Goodrich, TD 1990, The Ottoman Turks and the New World: A Study of Tarih-i Hind-i Gabri and Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Americana, Otto Harrasowitz, Wiesbaden.

Goodwin, G 1971, A History of Ottoman Architecture, Thames and Hudson, London.

Irigaray, L 1985, The Sex Which Is Not, translated by Catherine Porter and Caroline Burke, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

King, C 1998, Renaissance Women Patrons: Wives and Widows in Italy c. 1300-1550, Manchester University Press, UK.

King, M 2005, Women of the Renaissance, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1991.

Necipoğlu, G 2005, The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire, Reaktion Books, London.

Peirce, L 2000, “Gender and Sexual Propriety in Ottoman Royal Women's Patronage”, Women, Patronage and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies, edited by D. Fairchild Ruggles, pp. 53-68, State University of New York Press, New York.

Peirce, L 1993, Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, New York.

Séguy, MR 1977, The Miraculous Journey of Mahomet: Mirâj Nâmeh, George Braziller, New York.

Tezcan, B 2011, “The Frank in the Ottoman Eye of 1583”, the Turk and Islam in the Western Eye (1453– 1750): Visual Imagery Before Orientalism, edited by James G. Harper, pp. 267-296, Ashgate, Burlington.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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