When the in-between becomes artist and patron
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,” and above the coat of arms, with the same hand but in Latin, “This book is mine, Laurence Gosztonyi.” 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.”
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,” 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.
Full bibliography from my paper: