Picturing the Sultan from the 16th to 19th Centuries

Discover a variety of ways in which rulers of the Ottoman Empire were represented by local artists and foreign visitors

Sultan Süleyman (r. 1520–1566) on horseback, surrounded by Janissaries (1553) by Pieter Coecke van Aelst the ElderHarvard Library

This exhibition features a sample of images of Ottoman sultans, from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. These images show the variety of ways in which rulers of the Ottoman Empire, a mighty state that straddled three continents —Europe, Asia, and Africa—were represented by local artists and foreign visitors, and by those who had never been to Ottoman domains.

This is a detail from a monumental seven-part woodcut frieze published in 1553 by the artist's widow, Mayken Verhulst. This set of woodcut images remained popular into the seventeenth century. Rembrandt is known to have purchased a set for his collection.

Portrait of a Sultan, surrounded by Janissaries (1559) by Franz BrunHarvard Library

This print by the Strasbourg engraver Franz Brun reproduces, in a simplified form, part of the famous woodcut frieze depicted in the previous panel. Clearly, there was a high demand for these images in early modern Europe.

Portrait of Sultan Süleyman (r. 1520–1566) (1579) by Lokman (author) Nakkas Osman (artist)Harvard Library

This illustration was part of a manuscript, which contained verbal descriptions and portraits of the first twelve Ottoman rulers. All of the illustrations were done by court painter Naḳḳāş ‘Os̱mān.

Portraits of Selim II, Murad III, and Mehmed III from Subhat al-Akhbar (1674) by Mohammad Ibn RamazanHarvard Library

This panel and the next show two pages from an illuminated manuscript about world history. It includes 102 illustrations depicting prophets, famous figures of history and legend, and rulers.

Portraits Murad IV, Ibrahim I, and Mehmed IV with a Janissary soldier from Subhat al-Akhbar (1674) by Mohammad Ibn RamazanHarvard Library

The portraits on these two pages depict the Ottoman sultans Selim II, Murad III, Mehmed III, Murad IV, Ibrahim I, Mehmed IV.

Oil Portrait of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703–1730) (c. 1699-1737) by Jean Baptiste VanmourHarvard Library

This is one of a series of oil paintings depicting the reception of Dutch ambassador Cornelis Calkoen at the Ottoman court in 1727. The ambassador commissioned the Flemish-French artist Jean-Baptiste Vanmour to record his audience with Sultan Ahmed III on canvas.

Portrait of Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839) (c. 1838) by Eugenio and Raffaele FulgenziHarvard Library

This portrait shows Sultan Mahmud II dressed in a Western-style military uniform and wearing a fez. It forms part of an album of 25 hand-colored engravings and lithographs, made by the printers Eugenio and Raffaele Fulgenzi in the Aegean Sea port of Smyrna.

Portrait of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) (c. 1885) by Salīm Fāris al-ShidyāqHarvard Library

This portrait of Sultan Abdülhamid II is featured in an album of 34 photo-lithographed portraits of the Ottoman sultans, with captions in Arabic and French. It was edited and published by Salīm Fāris, son of the pioneering Arab
newspaper publisher and writer Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq.

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