Portrait of an Ottoman man

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Object Description

Continental School, circa 1700
Oil on canvas, framed
62 cm. wide x 77 cm. high / 24 ½ ins x 33 ¼, incl. frame 82 x 98 cm. / 32 ¼ x 38 ½ ins

This striking bust-length oil portrait of a male sitter wearing a large grey turban embodies the fascination amongst European artists for depicting exotic Islamic figures or subjects in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, at a time when Europe was continually at war or under threat of invasion from the Ottoman Empire.

It is in all likelihood an imagined portrait of an important Ottoman ruler, possibly Sultan Mehmet IV (1642-93), whose armies were defeated at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 by the Allied German-Polish forces. The sitter, shown facing to sinister, wears what appears to be a brown fur mantle and dark red undergarment and sports a long down-turned moustache.

We have identified two other portraits of what appear to be the same sitter, both of which are clearly related to the present subject. The first, sold at Christie’s (South Kensington, 4 June 2014, lot 170) – which could well be the prototype for the present portrait – shows what is clearly the same sitter in the same pose, wearing a near identical grey-blue turban. His dress is different to the present portrait, however, consisting of a leopard-skin sash and bright red mantle. A third portrait of the same sitter, offered in London in 2005 (Sotheby’s, Exotica sale, 25th May 2005, lot 199), is rather more sketchy and less finished than the two other pictures. The Christie’s portrait was given to the circle of Jan Kupecký (1667-1740), a Bohemian painter who worked mainly in Vienna and Nuremberg and specialised in portraiture.

The sitter in all three portraits recalls images of historic Ottoman rulers in Western art from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the Sultan Mehmet IV or the great sixteenth-century Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent (1496-1566). For related images of these two figures in European art of this period, see, for example, a late seventeenth-century engraving of Mehmet IV in the British Museum (mus. no. Gg,4E.211), who is depicted with a similarly large round turban and long down-turned moustache with flat ends; and a 17th-18th century historicising portrait of Suleyman the Magnificent (Sotheby’s, London, 27 Oct 2021, lot 166), who is shown wearing a similar turban and animal-skin pelt.

It is likely that the inscription ‘Gros 1811’ is modern and was added in the last hundred years, when it may have entered a French collection. There is also an indistinct and apparently older inscription above, which may also read ‘Gros’, with an illegible date (possibly, 1711, or 1811?). This may also have been added later.

It is most probable, therefore, that the present portrait and its related examples originate from the workshop of a prominent central European artist of the eighteenth century, who was either a pupil of or worked in the circle of Kupecký.

We are grateful to Dr. Zoltan Kovacs (Ph.D.), at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, for his opinion on the present painting and confirmation of its relation to Kupecký and his circle.

Object History

František Dvořák, Kupecky. Bratislava, 1955, pl. IV; František Dvořák, Kupecky: The great baroque portrait painter. Prague, 1956, pl. 5, 90; For related portraits of the same sitter, possibly by the same artist/studio, see: Christie’s, South Kensington, The Lex Aitken & Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez Collection, Sydney and Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, 39 Brook Street, Mayfair, 4th June 2014, lot 170: Sotheby’s, Exotica: East Meets West, 1500-1900, London, 25th May 2005, lot 199

Object Details

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+44 (0)7768 395500

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London W1 (Mayfair), by appointment.

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