Under the reformist Sultan Mahmud II, the capital of the Ottoman Empire experienced rapid modernisation and westernisation: the Orient Express railway service, inaugurated in 1871, directly linked the city to Paris. Women wore the latest fashions imported from across Europe. The School of Fine Arts, established by Osman Hamdy Bey, employed French, German and Italian painters to teach Turkish students the European figurative style of painting. Nevertheless, Ernst preferred to focus on Turkey’s traditional Muslim heritage, skills and trades. Here, a woman employs the services of a scribe to read or interpret a letter for her, while a fruit seller sits on the steps offering slices of melon to worshippers and passers-by.
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