A Venetian artist at the Ottoman court : an encounter of two worlds

Variant title
Benátský umělec na osmanském dvoře : setkání dvou světů
Author: Belting, Hans
Source document: Convivium. 2018, vol. 5, iss. 2, pp. 14-31
  • ISSN
    2336-3452 (print)
    2336-808X (online)
License: Not specified license
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The visit (1479–1481) of Gentile Bellini to the Ottoman court is a precious and significant memory of a cross-cultural meeting of East and West. Bellini's stay in Constantinople is attested to mostly in Italian sources. It did, however, leave testimonies in works by the Ottoman palace school as well as by Bellini's workshop. These works warrant close reading to understand this encounter of two visual cultures. There is the Boston leaf (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, p15e8) of a seated scribe that has been interpreted as providing a model of an Ottoman artist as seen from an Italian perspective. The picture is an exception in Bellini's working method, as it is a miniature painting on parchment – a practice common at the Ottoman court. From the opposite viewpoint, there are portraits of Mehmed II that clearly respond to the portraiture created in Bellini's workshop at the Ottoman court. In one of these, the Ottoman response picture depicts the Sultan smelling a rose, which is taken to be a subtle reference to the prophet. Such a departure from tradition, however, met also with resistance among the Venetian's Ottoman colleagues and did not survive the reign of Mehmed II, as it was regarded by Mehmed's successor, Bayezid II, as too liberal. The exchange between Bellini and Ottoman artists must be regarded as part of a program to fashion the new Ottoman court, as it emerged after the conquest of Constantinople, as a cosmopolitan place comparable to the Renaissance courts in the West.
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