They were powerful rulers of perhaps the most powerful empire the world has ever seen, and their portraits oiled the cogs of diplomacy. Six sultans from the Ottoman Empire, which spanned more than six centuries and dominated much of the world, watch under magnificent bulbous turbans, a symbol of their wealth and status.
An original set of 14 portraits was produced in Venice in 1579, and copies were made later. The only surviving intact set is in Munich, but a set of six will be on display at Christie’s in London this weekend before being auctioned off on October 28.
“They are colorful and living witnesses of an episode which was the culmination of a century of exchanges between Europe and the Ottomans around the imperial portrait,” said Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam, head of sales for the Islamic department. by Christie’s.
The original set was attributed to Veronese, the most famous artist in the Venetian court, and these six copies are attributed to one of her close disciples, she said.
âNone of these sultans have ever been seen by Venetian artists. Veronese would have read accounts of ambassadors describing their characteristics and seen engravings or sketches of them.
âMost sultans had nicknames. For example, Selim I was known as the Grim Selim, because he was a fierce ruler and killed many of his statesmen. When we look at his portrait, we feel this anger. Selim II was known as Selim the Drunk, and you can really see it in his puffy eyes and fat cheeks.
“Textiles are [Veroneseâs] style – they are so rich and bright that they look almost 3D. And the subjects have life and dynamism, each with their heads tilted or slightly back over one shoulder.
Headdresses were a “very Ottoman feature,” Moghaddam said. “The more important someone was, the bolder these distinctive turbans would be, sometimes with ornaments or gold jewelry.”
The gifts were “the oil that greased the cogs of diplomacy in medieval times and early modern times, and the Ottomans made many demands of the Venetians,” she added.
The set on display at Christie’s dates back to the collection of Count Gustav Adelmann von Adelmannsfelden, who had family ties to the Ottomans. The portraits, which were kept in a Bavarian castle until 1935, are expected to sell for up to Â£ 1.2million.