In the early 18th century the French artist Jean-Baptiste Vanmour (1671-1737) created a fascinating series of paintings of life at the Ottoman court for the Dutch ambassador, Cornelis Calkoen. Although the artist was not a Netherlander, the exhibition is included in the CODART list because of the circumstances of the commission and the fact that the works are in the Rijksmuseum.
From the website of the Rijksmuseum, where the exhibition originated
When the Dutch ambassador Cornelis Calkoen came to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul to present his credentials to Sultan Ahmed III, he had this important event recorded by the painter Jean Baptiste Vanmour. Together with the many depictions of court dignitaries and genre pieces by Vanmour, these paintings provide a remarkable picture of life at the Ottoman court in the first half of the eighteenth century, as can be seen at the exhibition The Ambassador, the Sultan & the Artist, An audience in Istanbul, which is at the Rijksmuseum from 2 May to 31 August 2003.
For this exhibition the Rijksmuseum has worked together with the Topkapı Sarayı Museum, from which it has several very unusual objects on loan. Vanmour’s extraordinary series, which has been kept at the Rijksmuseum since 1902, will be on view at the Topkapi Sarayi Museum at the end of 2003.
Vanmour visualized the Ottoman Empire
The painter Jean Baptiste Vanmour (1671-1737), who came from Valenciennes, went to Istanbul with the French ambassador De Ferriol in 1699. De Ferriol gave Vanmour an order for 100 paintings of the local people, a series which was published as prints and was to be highly influential on the West’s image of the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. Vanmour also recorded the French ambassador’s presentation of his credentials to Sultan Ahmed III. These audience scenes became Vanmour’s speciality: other ambassadors commissioned similar paintings capturing this important moment in their diplomatic career.
Cornelis Calkoen (1696-1764), the Dutch ambassador in Istanbul from 1726 to 1744, also asked Vanmour to go with him to an audience to record this event. As well as paintings, the exhibition includes several personal objects belonging to the ambassador, such as ornately embroidered letter cases, a snuff box, a dagger and a cane.
Visits to the sultan always followed a fixed pattern. For Vanmour this meant that his audience scenes could be broadly the same. The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna has drawings by Vanmour that served as studies for several paintings in the Rijksmuseum. At the exhibition several of these drawings will be shown together with the paintings for the first time. Loans from France and Turkey will also make it possible to compare the Calkoen audience scenes with those of other ambassadors, giving an insight not only into the fixed pattern of the audience but into Vanmour’s method as well.
Turkish delivery room
Apart from having his audience with Sultan Ahmed III recorded by Vanmour, Cornelis Calkoen also gave him various commissions. In the end Calkoen owned some 70 paintings by Vanmour and his studio. The collection contains many depictions of court dignitaries, often shown in their special costume or with a distinctive attribute, as well as a whole series of the different peoples who made up the population of the Ottoman Empire. There are also splendid illustrations of a Turkish delivery room, a first day at school and Turkish, Greek and Armenian weddings. The large number of works in this last group within the Calkoen collection makes the Rijksmuseum’s holdings unique compared with those in other museums.
The revolt led by Patrona Halil in 1730 brought a violent end to the rule of Sultan Ahmed III. Calkoen had two paintings of this important event, a portrait of the leader of the revolt and the murder of the ministers. These outstanding historical documents will also be on view in the exhibition.
Calkoen’s collection was already quite well known during his lifetime. It was his wish that it should not be dispersed. Because he was unmarried and thus had no direct heirs, he eventually left his collection to the Directors of the Levant Trade, who had their offices in the town hall on the Dam in Amsterdam and whose task was to promote and protect trade with the Levant. After various travels, the collection ended up at the Rijksmuseum in 1902. After leading a hidden life in storage for many years, the whole collection is now being thoroughly restored. A selection of some 50 works will be seen in the exhibition. The exhibition will also cover the results of the restoration of the paintings by Vanmour and his studio. In the New Rijksmuseum due to be ready in mid-2008, the complete collection of restored paintings by Vanmour will be part of the permanent presentation.
Eveline Sint Nicolaas, Duncan Bull and Günsel Renda, De ambassadeur, de sultan en de kunstenaar: op audiëntie in Istanbul, Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) and Zwolle (Waanders) 2003.
English edition: The ambassador, the sultan and the artist: an audience in Istanbul. 48 pages.
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (4 July-26 October 2003).