Ünver Rüstem

Assistant Professor



I am a historian of Islamic art and architecture, focusing in particular on the Ottoman Empire in its later centuries and on questions of cross-cultural exchange and interaction. My research cuts across media and genres, and the topics on which I have published include the reception of illustrated Islamic manuscripts as revealed by a group of Ottoman textual inserts added to the famous Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp; the distinctive funerary culture of Ottoman Cyprus, which was dependent on carved marble tombstones imported from Istanbul; and the patronage of the eighteenth-century sultan Mahmud I, whose reign, though largely neglected by scholars, coincided with profound shifts in Ottoman artistic taste and practice. My forthcoming publications will address such themes as the role of ceremonial and spectacle in giving meaning to architecture and, relatedly, the use of architectural form and style to convey carefully determined ideological messages. Underlying all of my research is a concern for elucidating the semantic range and function of artworks in their political and social contexts. I pursue this goal not only with reference to primary sources, but also by treating artifacts and buildings as richly informative documents in their own right.

My current research projects investigate topics as diverse as the Ottomans’ use of costume books and clothed mannequins to represent their empire to foreign audiences, and the artistic and functional significance of Qur’ans with interlinear Persian and Turkish translations. I am also completing my first book project, which examines the creation of a dramatically new cosmopolitan style—the so-called Ottoman Baroque—in the architecture of the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, during the eighteenth century. Arguing that the style allowed the Ottomans to signal their modernity in response to a rapidly changing international context, this book will constitute the first major English-language study of one of the most far-reaching developments in later Islamic art.

My educational and professional background spans the UK and USA. Having earned my BA and MA at the University of London (SOAS and UCL), where I was trained jointly in Islamic and Western art history, I received my PhD in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University. My dissertation research was supported by a grant from the Barakat Trust and by a Junior Fellowship at Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Istanbul. Before joining Johns Hopkins, I was a Mellon Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow and Lecturer at Columbia University and then the first Fari Sayeed Visiting Fellow in Islamic Art at the University of Cambridge.

“The Spectacle of Legitimacy: The Dome-Closing Ceremony of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque,” Muqarnas 33 (2016 [forthcoming]).

“Victory in the Making: The Symbolism of Istanbul’s Nusretiye Mosque,” in Art, Trade, and Culture in the Islamic World, ed. Alison Ohta, Michael Rogers, and Rosalind Wade Haddon (London: The Gingko Library, 2016 [forthcoming]).

Coauthored with Bora Keskiner and Tim Stanley, “Armed and Splendorous: The Jeweled Gun of Sultan Mahmud I,” in Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts, exhibition catalogue, ed. Amy Landau (Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 2015), 205–41 (independently authored section: “The Man behind the Gun: Mahmud I as Ruler and Patron,” 206–19).

“Imports from Istanbul: Ottoman Exiles to Famagusta and Their Tombs,” in Famagusta: City of Empires (1571–1960), ed. Michael Walsh (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), 73–102.

“The Afterlife of a Royal Gift: The Ottoman Inserts of the Shāhnāma-i Shāhī,” Muqarnas 29 (2012): 245–337.