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Dr. Godfrey Goodwin
1921 - 2005

From The Times, September 2, 2005

Godfrey Goodwin

Hospitable scholar who became a leading authority on Ottoman architecture and Turkish culture

GODFREY GOODWIN wrote many scholarly books about the culture of Ottoman Turkey. His History of Ottoman Architecture, published in 1971 and now in its fourth edition, was the first comprehensive study of the subject and remains the definitive reference work.

Goodwin was born to British parents in 1921 in Lisbon, where his father, an engineer, was involved in developing the tram system.

He was educated in Britain; from Clifton College, in Bristol, an interest in stage design led to the theatre. He studied at RADA and served as secretary of the Stage Society. When it closed, in 1939, he joined the Army. After training in Reading and Manchester, he was posted to North Africa, arriving in Algiers in 1942. In due course he took part in the Allied push into Italy and was in Rome when the war ended.

It was there that his lifelong love affair with the Mediterranean world began. He spent a lean, carefree postwar period in bohemian company, and acquired one of his treasures, a picture by the then unknown Giorgio Morandi.

Teaching jobs took him to Winchester, London, Alexandria and eventually Istanbul. It was in Bursa, on his first visit to Turkey in 1952, that he decided “to explore every nook and cranny of Ottoman architecture and also the people who lived here over many centuries”.

This began in earnest in 1957 when he taught in Istanbul at the English High School for Boys and later at Robert College, the precursor of Bogaziši (Bosporus) University.

In Istanbul, he met Turkish artists whose work he began to collect and, most importantly, his wife, Gillian. The birth of their son in 1969 brought them back to London, where Godfrey embarked on the writing of his magnum opus, A History of Ottoman Architecture.

Antonio Fernßndez-Puertas, the historian of the Alhambra in Granada, praised Goodwin’s ability to explain the space that architectural structures envelop: “He described to perfection the articulation of the parts of a building in the service of its principal element: a vault or a cupola. He followed the organic and chronological evolution of the Ottoman mosque, its elements (patios, minarets, fountains), and its associated buildings . . . In describing what he had observed and lacing his text with personal remarks, Goodwin allows us to feel we are present in front of the buildings.”

An academic career might then have seemed Goodwin’s natural destination. His work did earn him official recognition and a PhD, but only 30 years later. He chose to stay in teaching.

The Goodwins’ house in Primrose Hill, London, radiated Turkish warmth and generosity, and evenings there were memorable affairs. Filled, sometimes from basement to first floor, with artists, architects, art dealers and historians, students and figures from unexpected backgrounds, it had a magical atmosphere. Gillian, in Turkish trousers and headscarf, contributed her part: an authority on Elizabethan cooking and author of an unpublished book on the 17th-century housewife, she used friends as guinea pigs for research in the kitchen.

The Goodwins spent free time systematically exploring — Pevsner in hand — English country houses and other monuments; this provided the background for Gillian’s studies and helped to make Goodwin an authority also on English architecture. His writing at the time included several unpublished novels, and a smaller book, Ottoman Turkey (1977).

In retirement he was approached by Macmillan to act as a commissioning editor for the Dictionary of Art. The job did not last long but it allowed him finally to start pulling together the loose strands of his various interests.

Goodwin then worked as a librarian for the Royal Asiatic Society, and during this time found the calm to concentrate again on his field of expertise. He wrote scholarly articles, edited Ottaviano Bon’s The Sultan’s Seraglio (1996), and published Islamic Spain (1990), Sinan: Ottoman Architecture and its Values Today (1993), The Private World of Ottoman Women (1997), The Janissaries (1997), Topkapi Palace: an Illustrated Guide to its Life and Personalities (1999), and his memoir, Life’s Episodes (2002).

After the death of his wife in 2000, Goodwin, then nearly 80, returned to Istanbul and held summer courses at Bogaziši University, teaching Ottoman architecture; these continued almost to his death. He took great satisfaction from the interest of his students, whom he took on excursions in the fierce heat of the Turkish summer.

His son survives him.

Dr. Godfrey Goodwin
Historian of Ottoman architecture
born on February 24th, 1921, died on August 19th, 2005, aged 84

Obituary by Regina Krahl

The following books by Godfrey Goodwin
are available online from
A History of Ottoman Architecture
The Private World of Ottoman Women
Life's Episodes:Discovering Ottoman Architecture

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