Monday, September 29, 2014

Turquerie, Orientalism and Coffee

Carle Van Loo, Sultane (Mme de Pompadour portrayed as a Turkish lady), 1747
(Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris)

Today is International Coffee Day, a day for the celebration and enjoyment of the sine qua non of our morning rituals. While most people might be celebrating this auspicious occasion by enjoying the complimentary cup of coffee offered by their friendly neighborhood cafe or the most convenient Dunkin Donuts, I have been thinking more along the lines of the use of coffee in exotic constructions of "the other" in European painting. The first example that came to my mind was the image of Madame de Pompadour portrayed as a Turkish Lady, Sultane, painted by Carle Van Loo for her chateau at Bellevue, along with two other paintings displaying her occupied with pursuits associated with the Turkish harem in the French imagination, Two Odalisques Embroidering and An Odalisque Playing a Stringed Instrument (lost).

Amedee Van Loo, Le Dejeuner de la Sultane (Sultana's Luncheon), 1783
(Musee Cheret, Nice)
These paintings were made for the royal mistress's personal bedroom, a chambre a la turque within the Bellevue. Considering the sensual nature of their position, images of the seraglio being associated with the royal mistress is considered to be quite natural by many scholars. It is argued that in these paintings, Madame Pompadour, linking her image with the Sultana in the Turkish harem, is supposed to be reinforcing her assertive role within the court and in the King's personal life, "presiding over the king's pursuits and pastimes, always with his confidence and trust."1 Although the relationship of the Ottoman Sultan with his consorts is a complex one that is hard to define by Western standards, there were examples of very powerful queen mothers and favorites who reached out to even foreign leaders.

Kahve Keyfi (Enjoying Coffee), First half of 18th century
(Pera Museum)
While Madame de Pompadour is portrayed as a single figure being attended by a single servant, there are a whole retinue of attendants surrounding the figure of the Sultane in Le Dejeuner de la Sultane painted as one of four tapestry cartoons by Amedee Van Loo in 1783. Although it has been assumed for many years to be Madame du Barry, Louis XV's next mistress, the patron of the commission for Le Costume Turc, series tapestry cartoons, seems to be a little ambiguous. Some scholars argue that the Sultana's face recalls the royal mistress. Comparing Amedee Van Loo's series, Le Costume Turc with the one his uncle Carle Van Loo painted for marquise de Pompadour is studied as the height and decline of turquerie. 2 Ever since the Turks left their coffee behind after the siege of Vienna in the 16th century, coffee-drinking had become a popular activity in Europe.  Having one's portrait painted being served coffee was a sign of rank and luxury. 3 The French interest in coffee and the Turkish culture in particular was related to the two embassies the Ottoman Sultan sent to France in 1721 and 1742.  The arrival of Mehmet Celebi sent by Sultan Ahmet III. in 1721 as an ambassodor to Louis XV's court caused quite a stir in Paris society, causing the start of turquerie. It is reported that the Parisian elite would rent windows looking out onto the streets to watch the Ottoman delegation pass through on their way to and from the palace.  The ritual of drinking coffee, which is a natural as breathing to Turks, was another activity they watched with fascination.

Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Women Drinking Coffee, First half of 18th century

(Pera Museum)

Jean-Baptiste Vanmour who lived in the Ottoman capital from 1699 until his death in 1737 working with the French and later the Dutch ambassadors, created some of the most reliable depictions of Ottoman people and interiors. Since he was part of an embassy, he got to experience the rituals of the palace firsthand. Although he would still not be allowed inside a harem (the section of the house devoted to females) Vanmour's paintings show realistic interiors and women.

John Frederick Lewis, The Cofeebearer, 1857

European artists' fascination with Constantinople and the Orient was an ongoing phenomenon that culminated in Orientalism in art. Canvases of Western artists, depicted their fantasies of throngs of women, lounging about, sometimes naked, waiting for the pleasure of one man.  Those who visited came back with props, sketches and memories of exotic lands and strange people, those who did not, relied on accessories, costume books and travel memoirs. The dainty coffee cup became one of the most iconic props used by Orientalist. 

Daniel Valentine Riviere, Phanariot Greek Ladies, mid 19th century
(Pera Museum)
As artists traveled and experienced the Orient personally, they began to create remarkably beautiful works of art with intricate details and bright, illuminated colors. The scenery, architectural details, the costumes were all rendered meticulously with fairytale like, dreamy protagonists. The Orientalists' attention to detail and obsession with beauty was quite similar to the PreRaphaelites except this time brunettes were at center stage instead of redheads.

John Frederick Lewis, Harem life, Constantinople, 1857

And so, our daily cup of coffe went down in history as something rare and exotic, a thing of beauty... 

Osman Hamid Bey, Kahve Ocagi (Coffee stove), 1879
(Private Collection)


1 Stein, Perrin. “Madame de Pompadour and the Harem Imagery at Bellevue.” Gazette
 des Beaux Arts, Vol. 123, (January 1994), pp. 29-44.
Stein, Perrin. "Amedee Van Loo's Costume turc: The French Sultana." The Art Bulletin, Vol. 78, Bi, 3 (Sep., 1996), pp.417-438.
3 Ibid., p. 427

Monday, September 22, 2014

From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo's David


The possibilities for a work of art to charm and fascinate lovers of art seem to be infinite. When the said work of art is Michelangelo's world renowned David, everyone is ready to be enraptured. But what is it about this particular scuplture as opposed to thousands of others that sets it apart? How has David become so well recognized and embraced by everyone from Renaissance scholars to tattoo artists?  How can a 16th century sculpture of a Biblical figure manage to be an icon of perseverance against terrorism, health and body image issues, as well as the environment, all at the same time?

Michelangelo, David, 1504
"David von Michelangelo" by Rico Heil
 @Wikimedia Commons
Joaquim Cruz,
Tattoo of Michelangelo's David, 2011
Pintrest @Tattoo Power 

A. Victor Coonin, in his book,  From Marble to Flesh:The Biography of Michelangelo's David, provides a comprehensive context for the great masterpiece, from its inception to afterlife in many forms and spaces. After reading this book the reader will not only understand how the David came into being, but also the relevance of the time period it was created in and its significance throughout the centuries. Coonin has written a book for the masses filled with great art historical details that can appeal to a wide audience. The narrative flows easily and naturally.  The reader is taken on a journey that starts with the birth of the idea for the decoration of the Cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore, through the lives and careers of the different artists who were commissioned to produce prophets for the facade of the Cathedral, quarrying of the marble that was to become David, all before the genius to carve it was even born.

We tend to associate the David with perfection but the marble it was carved from was far from it. Even the story of the marble itself and the culture surrounding quarrying of marble, from the mountains that produced it to its eventual transport from the mountainside to Florence has been conveyed with great detail.  According to Victor Coonin "the simple reason why this imperfect block from Fantiscritti became the great David is that it did something that no such other block had done since antiquity. It allowed itself to be successfully cut from its mountainside womb."1

Each stage in the life of the David seems to have been a point of contention between different officials, artists, critics, the public.  Where David should be placed, who owned it, how it should be moved, what it should stand on? Names of the individuals involved at each stage of the project, official documents, contracts included to frame the timeline, grounds this work in scholarly research while making it easily accessible not only to art historians but to everyone. By providing historical background on David's different 'homes', Coonin takes the reader on an art historical journey through the most important sites in Florence. In the final chapter of From Marble to Flesh: the last section"Cloning the David through the 21st Century and Beyond" brings the story of David to our present day.

Serkan Ozkaya, David (inspired by Michelangelo), Louisville, 2012(Photo by Jae Grady)
I read the eBook version and found one of the advantageous was the ease with which one can move back and forth between the text and the citations.  Coonin has included drawings, historical photographs and prints for the reader to be able to visualize the historical events, places as well as the many angles and forms of the David. It was fascinating to learn that one of the largest replica's of David, a golden fiberglass copy twice the size of the original was created in Turkey by the artist Serkan Ozkaya. 2

I really enjoyed From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo's David and would recommend it to anyone interested in art or history.  I want to thank Alexandra Korey and The Florentine Press for providing a review copy of this book.

1 A. Victor Coonin, From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo's David, (Florence: The Florentine Press, 2014) 56, ePub for iBooks
2 Ibid., p. 300

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Image of the "El Turco" in Quattrocento Italy

Pinturicchio, St Catherine's Disputation, 1492-94
(Sala dei Santi of the Borgia Apartments, Vatican)
"I am not Italian, I am not an art historian, a student or even an academic and I am not even Christian! How many Turks do you see running around Italy, blogging about galleries and churches full of Madonnas and Saints... none! For years something in me searched for a way to connect with others. I found it in art and particularly in the faces and graceful poses of one particular artist whose works seemed to call me to action." 
                                                                                               -  Hasan Niyazi 
That artist was of course, Raphael, which is why we are honoring Hasan's memory and the light he brought to our lives on Raphael's birthday, April 6, 2014. Hasan connected, inspired, impelled so many of us to stretch the boundaries of our potential, vision and purpose, making us see what was right in front of us in a whole new way... today we are doing our best to continue the conversation that was so abruptly interrupted on October 28, 2013. This post will be part of a virtual collaboration, #raphaelhasan, celebrating the life of Hasan Niyazi.

Here are a few images of "El Turco" standing around in Italy.

Standing Man,  Workshop of Gentile Bellini,
(late fifteenth century)
(Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)
After his famous expedition to Istanbul which resulted in the most widely recognized likeness of an Ottoman Sultan, Gentile Bellini is cited as being one of the most credible sources for the Oriental mode in Venetian painting. The conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 brought Europe in direct contact with the Ottoman Turks arousing great interest in the customs and manner of dress of these "Orientals." Bellini was not the only source of information however, visiting merchants and the ambassadors also provided the Venetians with eyewitness accounts. Generally accepted as the work of Gentile Bellini, the several drawings of Turks which have been attributed to Costanza Ferrara by Julian Raby, do seem to be quite authentic in their costumes and visage.[1]

Procession in the Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496
(Galleria dell'academia, Venice) 
There are many legends regarding Sultan Mehmet II's library and collections with its priceless Bibles, Torahs along with precious Qurans, antique and Persian manuscripts. Philippe de Montebello has even claimed Mehmed II's collection as the first Universal Museum.[2]  One of the most intriguing items allegedly displayed there was a Madonna and Child in front of which Mehmet kept candles burning. Bellini was commissioned to paint a manuscript illumination of the Madonna and Child as well as frescoes for one of the four pavilions Mehmet II was building inside his new palace compound. Unfortunately, only the Persian Pavilion survives to our present day as the Tiled Kiosk on the grounds of the Archaeological Museum. 

Pinturicchio, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1492-94
(Sala dei Santi of the Borgia Apartments, Vatican)
Seated Janissary, Gentile Bellini 1479-81
(British Museum)
Styling himself as the new Alexander the Great, it has been suggested that Mehmet II invited Bellini into his household and intimate circle, emulating Alexander's relationship with his favorite artist, Apelles. After spending a year in the Sultan's household, Gentile Bellini returned to Venice bearing gifts: the most precious of these were a gold medallion and chain, a letter bearing the Sultan's Tugra, commending Bellini, and a Knighthood of the Golden Spur. Bellini's impressions from his trip to exotic Istanbul has been noted in two of his paintings, in some minor architectural details of Saint Mark Preaching in Alexandria and three turbaned figures in the background of the Procession in the Piazza San Marco which are thought to be the inspiration for Durer's drawing Three Standing Orientals.

Pope Pius II in the Port of Ancona, Pinturicchio, 1505-07
(Piccolomini Library, Siena)
By the sixteenth-century the Turk had become a familiar and accurately depicted figure in Italian art. Some of the best examples of this trend can be found in the frescoes Pinturicchio painted for Sala dei Santi in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Palace where he used Bellini's Standing Man and Standing Turk exactly as they appear in his drawings; meanwhile The Seated Janissary can be seen in his Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian.  Finally, in Pinturicchio's fresco of Pope Pius II in the Port of Ancona (while embarking on a Crusade), the figure of the standing Turk (at the far right) has been identified as Cem Sultan, Mehmed II's younger son who was a hostage and eventually died at the papal court.

The Seated Scribe, Gentile Bellini, 1479-80
(Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

The Seated Scribe representing an imperial page, probably like the ones Bellini encountered daily in the palace, after some debate has been attributed to Gentile Bellini. It is a pen in brown ink drawing which has been painted using water color and gold on paper. The method of production as well as the coloring has been noted as responding to the Islamic influence the artist had been exposed to in Mehmet's court.  I like to think of this particular drawing as the visual manifestation of the confluence of ideas and traditions between east and west for a brief moment in time.

Europe and the Ottoman Turks lived together as neighbors, rivals and trading partners for four more centuries, the changing political conditions dictating how each saw and represented the other. According to Giovanni-Maria Angiolello, after Mehmet's death, his son and successor, Beyazit II had his father's portrait along with other Western paintings sold in the Bazaar where they were acquired by Venetian merchants. The works Gentile Bellini produced in Istanbul, disposed of in such a hasty fashion went on to become sources of inspiration for European artists for many centuries to come.

[1] Julian Raby, Venice, Durer and the Oriental Mode, Islamic Art Publications, 1982
[2] Philippe de Montebello, Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities, "And What Do You Propose Should be Done with Those Objects?"Princeton UP, Princeton, 2009


Caroline Campbell, Alan Chong, Deborah Howar, J. M rogers, and Sylvia Auld, Bellini and the East, London: National Gallery, 2006

Stefano Carboni, Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797, New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2007

Julian Raby, Venice, Durer and the Oriental Mode, Islamic Art Publications, 1982

James B. Cuno, Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities, Princeton UP, Princeton, 2009
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