Saturday, June 4, 2011

Representing the Christians of Ottoman Europe: Self, Other, and the In-between in Sixteenth-Century Costume Books

The title of my MA paper at Rutgers was “Representing the Christians of Ottoman Europe:
Self, Other, and the In-between in Sixteenth-Century Costume Books.” Originally written for my course at the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 2010 with professor Larry Silver, I presented a version of this paper at the University of Kansas’ March 2011 graduate conference, Articulating Identity in Visual Culture. I also presented a more developed version of it at the Dialectics of Orientalism conference at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign. Below I provide an extremely truncated introduction to the topic, works of art, and my arguments.

There are at least twenty known sixteenth century costume books in manuscript and print form devoted to representing the Ottoman Turks and life in their capital city of Constantinople.[1] As guides to the hierarchies of Ottoman society, these collections of images contain purportedly accurate depictions of the richly costumed and exotic sultans, their wives, various military divisions, and eunuchs, ranging to the more quotidian monks, cooks, street fighters, and lepers. Prior studies have made little attempt to explain the substantial number of Christians portrayed in these works. My research highlights their often neglected presence, suggesting that their existence complicates the Orientalist readings previous scholars pulled from these albums. I argue that artists depicted the ambiguous and hybrid identities of the Christians of Ottoman Europe with the same pictorial conventions as their Muslim and ethnically Turkish or Middle Eastern counterparts. Consideration of the ambiguous place of these Ottomanized Europeans as subject sheds new light on the costume book genre by deconstructing the dichotomy of East and West to explore the role of the in-between. From within this realm of the in-between, I focus in on a particular manuscript, whose Hungarian artist and patron make it a unique example of confusion in the self/other paradigm.
figure 1
Greek peasant farmer, Melchior Lorck, 1581, 
The Turkish Publication
Fischer catalogue #75
Corresponding text (1646 edition): 
Was massen die Griechischen Bauern, 
so Christen, zur Zeit, wan sie in Krieg ziehen sollen, 
sich beym Sultan prasentieren ” 
[The bulk of Greek farmers, as Christians, at present, 
when they should go to war with the 
Sultans against themselves
(i.e. against other Christians)]

Figure 2
Standing soldier, Melchior Lorck, 1576, 
The Turkish Publication
Fischer catalogue #38, 
Corresponding text (1646 edition): 
"Ein Sultanischer Kriegsmann, aus dene, so hin wider auf 
den Frontieren der Christenheit zerheilet" 
(A Sultan's soldier, like this against 
the frontier of the Christian Wars)

The similarities in their depictions question the assertions of backwardness and fundamental difference between the peoples of the “East” and the “Western” viewer discussed by previous scholars. A comparison between a turbaned Ottoman soldier (figure 1)[2] and a Greek Christian farmer (figure 2) from Melchior Lorck’s Turkish Publication reveals antiquities in decay serving as backdrops for both figures. The Christian peasant farmer stands on the ground, the crumbling past of ancient knowledge and beauty embodied in the jagged stump of an obelisk with a threatening crack down its center. To his right, two dead branches and part of a third balance the composition. The turbaned staff bearer stands in controposto in a similarly dreary setting. Again on the right, another truncated obelisk can be seen, irreparably damaged with a crack down its center. In the distance another obelisk stands, perhaps awaiting its inevitable fate. To the figure’s left, situated along the horizon line, stands a single cylindrical tower with a hint of windows. In another comparison, the orderly urban landscapes behind both the emissary (figure 4) and Christian slave differ little from that behind an Ottoman Turkish archer (figure 6),[3]  and others like him. The Christian figures in the Lambert de Vos manuscript also have the same iconic and timeless qualities as their non-Christian counterparts. All figures are place into the same blank background, the ground line demarcated only by a light brown wash with various patterns to suggest changes in texture, such as the Janissaries, and the “Catholic from Pera or Galata.” These examples suggest that backgrounds are not the negative judgments against an static and iconic “other,” and a reading of outright Western subjugation of a lesser Eastern other is not visually supported. In addition to these explicitly identified Christians, I argue for a complication of the identities of an additional fifteen figures from Lorck and more than seven others from de Vos’ album, whose culturally ambiguous costume elements suggest a close connection with Ottoman European Christian identity. Those costume elements will be discussed in later blog entries. If I am correct, than over a quarter of both Lorck’s and de Vos’ works are devoted to representing the hybrid and fluid identities that were consistently muddled at the frontier.

When the in-between becomes artist and patron
The literature on costume books divides the twenty-one unique manuscripts produced before 1600[4] into two categories: a majority produced by Europeans for European audiences and four late sixteenth-century examples, produced by Ottomans for European audiences.[5] The possibility of objects falling somewhere between these categorizations, something previously not considered by scholars, is one I would like to explore in relation to a small costume album in Wolfenbüttel, which may embody the epitome of the complexities of in-between identities.[6]

Preserved in the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel (206. Blankenburg), the manuscript measures 8 by 5 ½ inches and consists of thirty-three folios with fourteen miniatures separated by blank pages and two coats of arms with corresponding inscriptions in Latin and Hungarian. The crowded first folio contains the album’s original Hungarian dedication, which reads “This book was written in Constantinople, at the gate of captain Ali Pasha, under the hand of Csöbör Balázs of Szigetvár in fifteen seventy,”[7] and above the coat of arms, with the same hand but in Latin, “This book is mine, Laurence Gosztonyi.”[8] The coat of arms and two texts are each individually framed by a simple gold and black border with breaks to accommodate the text of the Latin inscription, suggesting the text was written before the border was drawn. The first letters of both inscriptions are enlarged, with the Latin “I” drawn in a foliate flourish in a light ink wash that is echoed in four leaves drawn in lightly above the text. At the top of the page in a different hand with darker ink is the date 1579. That same hand also wrote the initials “WG” and “SG” on either side of the coat of arms, drawn on top of the border surrounding the original text along with the name “Georg Portlusz” also drawn on top of the border. The last bit of text is the black ink inscription at the bottom of the page commemorating the acquisition of the volume by a Rudolf Ludany on the fourth of January, 1709.   Folio three contains the coat of arms of another owner of the small volume, identified in script underneath the shield as Abraham Phendler, with the date of 1579 running across the banderole on top. Below the image are the words “Dr. Hainzico Pilgrum amiciiae ergo, Vienna Austria 6 Marty.”
 Ferenc Szakály, who published a facsimile of this small manuscript with introductory notes, operates under the assumption (while acknowledging it as such) that the inscription on the first folio identifies Csöbör Balázs of Szigetvár as the artist.[9] Claus-Peter Haase suggested that a Hungarian possessor collected the contents of the binding as individual miniatures and empty folios for an anthology.[10] The term used to describe the act of creation in the dedication, “irratot,” is an antiquated past tense of the verb “to write.” It also has another connotation, not noted by Szakály and Haase, which involves the act of creating a work of folk art,[11] relating particularly to a type of weaving performed in Transylvania. This dual meaning, I suggest, reinforces the possibility that Csöbör Balázs of Szigetvár was the illuminator as well as compiler. The stylistic similarity of the miniatures further suggests that they were created by one hand and not compiled from various sources. Thus, the Hungarian artist identifies himself with the city of Szigetvár, taken by the Turks just four years before the date of the album in 1566, putting him at the center of this complicated Ottoman/European/Christian identity.
The fourteen framed miniatures are separated by blank marbled pages. Each figure stands facing right or left with a suggestion animation in their active hands, either tucked into awkwardly placed pockets near their lower abdomens, holding up their robes or skirts, or mindlessly fingering the fabric of their jackets. A majority of the figures are framed in a light blue background surrounded by a border identical to that on the first dedication page. The exceptions to this pattern are the horseman without a frame or background, and the final two figures whose green backgrounds’ uneven edges appear unfinished, leaving space for border of the earlier pages. The last image, a woman provocatively holding up her skirt to reveal her calves covered in sheer fabrics, is the only page with marbled red paper outside of her green background. The most highly decorated (folios 2 and 30) each contain a seated official accompanied by standing attendants set in richly illuminated interiors of patterned cloths, carpets, and walls. The first seated figure, clothed in sumptuous blue, red, and green fabrics with gold embroidery, sits directly on the ground, set against a simple geometric pattern of eight pointed stars topped by a geometric floral motif similar in shape, color and design to the motifs on contemporary non-figural Qurans. Standing to the right of the official are two janissaries in long red kaftans with gold belts and long horizontal hussar style buttons, one holding a sword, the other a lantern. The seated official fingers his blue overcoat with his left hand and rests his right on his knee.  The second illumination with an important seated figure set in an interior is on folio 30. Accompanied only by a eunuch, this man sits against a marbled background hung with drapery. He and his attendant stare off to the viewers left.  The remaining images depict a dervish, two dancers, a eunuch, and various military divisions. Stylistically, the figures are rendered in a precise and stylized manner characteristic of Ottoman miniatures from the period.
Though the images clearly fit into the Ottoman tradition, many questions remain regarding this manuscript, and its artist and patron. One particularly interesting detail is the text written onto the pages of a book held open in the left hand of the dervish on folio 22. In miniscule Arabic script, the individual words “Allah,” “Mehmed,” and “Ali” appear across from another page filled with an unintelligible jumble of Arabic letters.  It was typical of non-Muslims with a limited understanding of the Arabic language to pull entire words and random letters from various sources to lend their images authority and rarely, if ever, are there random jumbles of letters on works produced by artists situated well within the Ottoman artistic tradition. One possible explanation of this could be that the dervish is engaged in divination. Another curious aspect of the manuscript is the provocative nature of some of the hand gestures and clothing.  Despite being written off as an anomaly by the few scholars aware of it, the Wolfenbüttel album is one of the earliest extant costume books in manuscript form produced and consumed by the in-between Christians of Ottoman Europe.[12]
Self, Other, and the In-between in the Wolfenbüttel
If we are to accept that this manuscript was produced by Csöbör Balázs, an illuminator originating from the town of Szigetvár in the Kingdom of Hungary, and somehow finding his way in the Ottoman capitol of Constantinople, then these images take on new, context driven meanings. Csöbör Balázs becomes a center of the “locus and locution of cultures caught in the transitional and disjunctive temporalities”[13] of his age. He is first and foremost identifying himself as Hungarian through the written text on the frontispiece, using a vernacular language unintelligible to all non-Hungarians. His Hungarian-ness marks him as a citizen of a Catholic Kingdom. The original owner of this album, Laurence Gosztonyi, is also marked as a member of Hungarian and Latin Christendom by his Hungarian last name and his use of Latin, the official language of the courts and diplomats in Hungary. Following the textual identifications of the self, the illuminations would, under normal circumstances, be considered a representation of an “other:” non-Hungarians identified as such by their religiously and culturally predetermined costumes which mark their Muslim-ness and their place in the hierarchies of Ottoman society. But then, returning to the textual identification of the self and the historical context, the separation between self and other becomes displaced and dislocated, hovering in some unknowable and difficult to comprehend historical past. Csöbör Balázs identifies himself with the city of Szigetvár, a town now under the firm control of the Ottoman Empire and already years into its Ottomanization process.  He identifies his own current location as the city of Constantinople and his illuminations are very clearly in an Ottoman style that speaks to what was likely formal training in an illumination workshop.   He is at once a self, an other, and an in-between. A number of his illuminations might also share the same identity crisis. The Janissary, for example, may be seen in light of his past as a product of devşirme, a former Christian child slave from the provinces. Even the two illuminations of seated officials could potentially be seen as advanced products of the process of devşirme. The dancing women may be seen as objects of war booty. With these very real in-between identities in mind, the original owner of the album, Laurence Gosztonyi would have read the images in an entirely different and deeply personal way.
 I would like to suggest a reappraisal of identity in these works not as static polar opposites, or even on a sliding scale of East and West, but instead, in a three-dimensional scatter plot where nothing is fixed and everything hovers indefinitely, or, for the unfortunate, zooms around like an atom. The self, the other, and the in-between, become intertwined in the “timeless discourse of irrationality,”[14] which these costume books attempt to control, contain, and reappraise, sometimes misguidedly or incorrectly, but always through an ambiguous lens. Is it possible that the figures in these costume books were seen not only in terms of their current positions as members of Ottoman society, but also as former members of a European Christian society? The deli, former light cavalrymen from the border’s opposing army? The Janissaries, former tribute children? The dancers, recently collected entertainment from the provinces? How does this possibility inform our understanding of other costume books, particularly those manuscripts for whom a localization and provenance are unknown? While this hypothesis remains in the realm of speculation, owing to the ambiguity at the essence of sixteenth century Ottoman Christian identity, a steady subaltern whisper may in fact be emanating from the pages of the Wolfenbüttel manuscript and others like it.

[1] For a nearly complete list of costume books devoted to Ottomans in manuscript form from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries see the essay by Rudolf H. W. Stichel, “Das Bremer Albumn und seine Stellung innerhalb der orientalischen Trachtenbücher” [The Bremen Album and its place in the tradition of Oriental costume books], in Das Kostumbuch des Lambert de Vos [The costume book of Lambert de Vos], editor Hans-Albrecht Koch (Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1991), 31-54. For a list sixteenth-century printed costume books, see the article by Joanne Olian, “Sixteenth Century Costume Books,” Costume 3 (1977): 20-48. For a list full list of sixteenth-century costume books devoted to representing the Ottomans known to this author, see Appendix A.
[2] Corresponding text (1646 edition):“Ein Sultanischer Kriegsmann, aus dene, so hin wider auf den Frontieren der Christenheit zerheilet“ [A Sultans soldier, like this against the frontier of Christian wars], Fischer catalogue #38.
[3] Corresponding text (Thesaurus 1688 edition): “Von den Janitscharen…“ [On the janissaries…]
[4] For a list see Appendix A.
[5] Schick 1999, 626.
[6] Ferenc Szakály, Szigetvári Csöbör Balázs török miniatúrái 1570 (Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 1983). It was also the topic of a paper given in 1991, though the author was unaware of the Hungarian volume at the time. For a summary of that paper see Claus-Peter Haase, “An Ottoman Costume Album in the Library of Wolfenbüttel, dated before 1579,” in 9th International Congress of Turkish Art: contributions vol. 3, ed. Nurhan Atasoy (Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1995), 225-228. A large set of folios preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (7 4°) depicting Ottoman European Christians and Jews would also be useful in exploring in-between identities in the seventeenth century, a number are reproduced in Klára Hegyi and Vera Zimányi, The Ottoman Empire in Europe, (Budapest: Corvina, 1989).
[7] “Ez konw irattot KustanczŸ Napolban az kapitan AlŸ basa portaian Szigeth VarŸ Chiobor Balasnak keze altal ezor oth szaz hetuen,” folio 1. The date of 1570, then seems extremely reliable. Other later dates drawn in on the title page by later hands indicate transfers of ownership.
[8] “Iste liber pertinet ad me Laurentium Gozthony.”
[9] Szakály 1983, 7-9.
[10] Haase 1995, 226.
[11] The following definition appears in the Hungarian equivalent of the OED: Ferenc Pusztai, ed., Magyar értelmező kéziszótár (Buapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 2009), 576. The sixth definition given for the word írás is folk handwork, accessories decorated with lined patterns (“Nép kézmunka, dísztárgy vonalas mintájú diszítése,”). In some parts of Transylvania, the word is still used to describe the act of making traditional woven folk art.
[12] While I hesitate to use the term earliest because of its implications, the date in the dedication of 1570 makes it the earliest known in this format.
[13] Bhabha 2006, 360.
[14] Bhabha 2004, 204.

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