The Tortoise Trainer (Turkish: Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi) is a painting painted by Osman Hamdi Bey in 1906 and 1907 (two versions). In 2004 it was sold for $3.5M. famous Turkish painter at the time in the Ottoman Empire.
The painting depicts an elderly man in traditional Ottoman religious costume dating from before introduction of the fez and spread of western style dress in the latter part of the 19th century. He holds a traditional "nay" flute with which he is attempting to "train" the tortoises at his feet.
Hamdi Bey created the painting at a time of great social and political upheaval in the Ottoman Empire. The reforms introduced by Sultan Abdul Hamid II (22 September 1842 – 10 February 1918) had either proved ineffective or had been reneged upon having themselves been blamed for the increased upheaval.
The Ottoman empire, which still encompassed parts of Greece and the south Balkans as well as the Levant and much of the Arab peninsula was under serious threat both from the growing power of nationalist movements and from incursion by the foreign powers which would eventually divide the empire between them in the aftermath of WW1. The painting cleverly satirises the slow and ineffective attempts at reforming the Ottoman Empire as the attempts of an anachronistic historical character to train tortoises.
Although not widely shown or understood at the time time the painting achieved greater significance in subsequent decades as it presaged the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 which brought and end to the direct autocratic rule of the empire by the Sultan and set the stage for the Empire's entry into WW1 on the side of Germany and Austria Hungary and for its subsequent break up.
| Artist Osman Hamdi Bey|