Saturday, December 31, 2011

Deli and Hussar: confusion, ambiguity, and hybrid identities

Figure 1
Cavalry division known as deli
Melchior Lorck, 1576, 
The Turkish Publication, Fischer catalogue #22
Corresponding text (1688 edition): 
“Dely oder Türkischen Rittern” [Deli or Turkish Knight] 
Figure 2
Casi seu Eques ex Limitibus” [Commander from a border province]
Lambert de Vos, 1574, Costume Book, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Bremen (Ms. or. 9), folio 85

The strange division of the Ottoman military referred to as deli appear in the costume books of both Melchoir Lorck and Lambert de Vos (figures 1 and 2 - see entry in June 2011 for more on these works - also includes full bibliography). Characterized by large wings and feathers protruding from various points on their costumes, they are often cloaked in leopard skins, and carry maces, sabers, and distinctly shaped shields. A regiment of light cavalrymen, Deli tactics and speed enabled them to operate along the frontlines as shock troops and behind the scenes as agile raiders of military camps. The origins and use of these cavalry divisions remain controversial in Central and Eastern Europe, and fierce nationalistic pride has produced a number of non-scholarly publications asserting claim over them as a national symbol.[1] While a synthesizing and unbiased overview of the topic remains unwritten, the character emerged out of the clash of Ottoman and Christian Europe on the battlefields of the upper Balkans, Carpathian Basin, and the Southern Baltic region. All participating parties had their own versions of delis, which foreigners often conflated into one frightening enemy. Few scholars note the ambiguity of these figures in the works of Lorck and de Vos,[2] an important aspect best explored through the complex histories of individual components of their costumes, of which, I focus only on the shield here.

Figure 3
Hungarian shield, 16th century, 
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1977-167-756, 
Bequest of Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, 1977

The asymmetrical shield carried by the deli and a large number of other military figures in Lorck’s Turkish Publication points to a vexing and largely unanswered question that many costume and armor historians still have on the origins of this form and its dissemination.[3] Composed of a convex piece of wood lined with leather, then gessoed and painted, the shields come in two forms: trapezoids and elongated trapezoids that resemble irregular triangles (figure 3).[4]  Their design enables full mobility of the right hand while providing partial to full protection of the left side and back through the shoulders. While the scholarly literature on this subject is somewhat scant, János Kalmár traces their development from fourteenth-century shields used in Central Europe through visual depictions in manuscript illuminations and prints to assert development in the region as the product of the unique needs of light cavalry divisions of Hungarian armies in the late fifteenth through the sixteenth centuries.[5] For example, the shield type, complete with its culturally ambiguous decorations,[6] appears in a small image of Hungarian troops illustrating Sigismund Von Herberstein’s publication, Notes upon Russia.[7] The most recent study on the fifteenth and sixteenth century hussars discusses the evolution of the shield in a four page essay, arguing for a Balkan origin for the form.[8] The shields are still ubiquitously referred to in arms and armor literature as “Hungarian” or “Hussar” style. Who, then, were the Turkish Deli, and where do they and their shields come from?

Figure 5
Customs and Fashions of the Turks
 Pieter Coecke van Aelst , c. 1533

Figure 4
Ottoman Shield, 17th century,
Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (Inv. Nr. D20)

Much mystery surrounds if, when, and to what extent Ottoman Turkish military divisions appropriated the shield type discussed above. Traditional Ottoman shields are circular and made of metal or wooden reeds and colorful silks (figure 4).[9] Yet, visual evidence suggests that, if not literally, then in the imaginations of a large number of artists from the Ottoman Empire and Europe, Ottoman troops utilized these angled wooden shields in the late fifteenth through the sixteenth centuries. A shield of this type appears on the back of a turbaned Turk in Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s Customs and Fashions of the Turks (figure 5). Manuscripts produced at the Ottoman royal workshop depict them as well. The shields first appear in an Ottoman context in a number of late sixteenth century illuminations related to the campaigns against the Kingdom of Hungarian. In some manuscripts the shields are carried only by troops fighting for the Kingdom of Hungary, such as in an illumination depicting the Siege of Belgrade painted around 1580, from the Hunername, illuminated by Nakkas Osman, with Ali, Mehmed Bed, Molla Tiflisi, Velican and Mehmed Brusavi (figure 6). In another illumination showing a battle outside of Temesvár from the Futuhat-I Dzamila, the shields are carried only by the Ottomans (figure 7). A few manuscript illuminations depict both sides carrying the hussar shield, as in an miniature depicting the Battle of Mohacs from the Süleymanname, (figure 8).

Figure 6
Siege of Belgrade (detail), c. 1580, 
From the Hunername, illuminated by Nakkas Osman, 
with 'Ali, Mehmed Bed, Molla Tiflisi, 
Velican and Mehmed Brusavi, 
written by Loqman ibn Hosayn al-Ashuri, 
Topkapı Sarayı Museum, Hazine 1523, folio 165r 
Figure 7
Battle outside of Temesvár (detail), 
From the Futuhat-I Dzamila
illuminator and author unknown, 
Topkapı Sarayı Museum, 
Hazine 1592, folio 18v

Figure 8
The Battle of Mohacs (detail), From the Süleymanname
Topkapı Sarayı Museum, illuminator unknown, 
written by Sinan Cavush, Hazine 1517, folio 212r
Figure 9
Siege of Szigetvar, From the Suleymanname
Chester Beatty Library,
illuminated by Nakas Osman, 
Inventory Number: 414  - TP47, folio 94v 

One particularly interesting miniature depicting both sides of the cause with the Hussar shield is the Siege of Szigetvár in the Chester Beatty Library Suleymanname (figure 9).  The Ottoman soldiers amidst the explosion of the artillery storage of the inner castle walls, hold their traditional round shields of blue, gold, or red as they struggle with their opponents protecting the crumbling fortress. Two defenders hold angled hussar shields: one at the gate of the innermost castle’s entrance dressed in dark blue tones carrying a red shield, the other struggling on the island dressed in red with a pink tinted shield. At the bottom of the page, outside of the frame, the artist depicted a five marching Ottoman soldiers carrying heads of their victims towards a sixth figure soldier holding a red Hussar shield. Here the shield may represent a war trophy.  These highly stylized images utilize visual vocabularies further complicated by the multi-ethnic background of the royal workshop, a proportion of whose illuminators were recently converted Muslims from Ottoman Europe themselves.[10]

Figure 10
Turkish Moor, Melchior Lorck, 1581, 
The Turkish Publication, Fischer catalogue #66
Corresponding text (1646 edition): 
“Ein Soldat des Morae Begi oder 
Regenten der Statt Modone“ 
[A soldier of Morae Begi of the regent of the 
state of Modon (Modoni, a Venetian 
colony on the Peloponnesian
 Peninsula conquered by the 
Ottomans in 1498)]
Figure 11
Hungarian Shield, mid-16th cent.,
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
49.57.1, Rogers Fund, 1949
The striking similarities between a shield carried by an Ottoman Moorish soldier[11] in Lorck (figure 10) to a surviving shield in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (figure 11) points to yet another tradition that further complicates the identification of the deli figures. Tournaments held in Habsburg lands, particularly along the Hungarian frontier often included participants armed and dressed as Ottoman Turks carrying “Eastern” weapons and armor produced locally. These shields, both decorated with an arm, bent ninety-degrees at the elbow and holding the double sword of the prophet Mohamed, have been connected to these tournaments. This practice added to the ongoing interchange of costume elements along the frontier, creating opportunities for armorers and artists to develop designs in a pseudo-Oriental style.[12] These complicated patterns of appropriation accompanied the Ottoman conquering of lands farther into Central Europe, where their new subjects often joined in their ranks and the light cavalry divisions who once fought against them now fought for them, bringing along their weapons and armor.  Thus, figures holding these shields cannot be identified as an uncomplicated aspect of the greater Ottoman Turkish identity, but rather the product of a process of appropriation and assimilation. 
Charlotte Jirousek, commenting on what she calls the “nearly identical dress” of Turkish horsemen in the woodcuts of Melchior Lorck and of their Austrian counterparts in other works,[13] concludes that Turkish military dress had a direct impact on Europeans along the frontier. Her assertion, and that of many others who comment on the costume similarities, considers the influence a one-way street.[14] As I have shown above, this relationship is far more complicated than a simple one-way appropriation across an illusionary fixed line of difference. Local populations situated between the Ottoman troops and the Habsburgs, with their own costumes and armor, retained some of their cultural elements which were then diffused though various methods of appropriation and assimilation. This ambiguity led to the confusion of those who attempted to pinpoint the hybrid identities by fixing them to static terms such as "Hungarian," "Christian," "Ottoman," and "Muslim."

[1] For just one example which berates previous publications from different nationalist points of view, see József Zachar, The Hungarian Hussar: An Illustrated History (Budapest: Corvina, 2000). See also Richard Brzezinski and Velimir Vuksic, Polish Winged Hussar, 1576-1775 (Oxford: Osprey, 2006). A quick look at the Wikipedia for the term “Hussar” gives a glimpse of the emotional controversy, as do numerous blogs. For a more scholarly take on the topic, though with a focus on seventeenth and eighteenth century manifestations of the Hussar and still not entirely devoid of a nationalistic spin (can a discussion of these winged horsemen ever really be?) see Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, “Definition and Self-Definition in Polish Culture and Art 1572-1764,” in Land of the Winged Horsemen: Art in Poland 1572-1764, ed. Jan K. Ostrowski (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 1999), 15-25.
[2] Occasionally Lorck’s figure is pulled from its costume book context and inscriptions and referred to as of one political or ethnic group or another. Such is the case in Alexandrine St. Clair, “A Forgotten Record of Turkish Exotica,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27 (1969): 413, where the image is called a “Polish mercenary or delly.” In another case, while discussing the plumes on their helmets, two of Lorck’s figures were pulled by Charlotte Jirousek and called a Sipahi (mounted Ottoman soldier) and Grenzer (mounted Austrian border guard). The figure she refers to as a Grenzer carries one of the angled shields. See Charlotte Jirousek, “Ottoman influences in Western dress,” in Ottoman Costumes: From Textile to Identity, ed. Suraiya Faroqhi and Christoph K. Nauman (Istanbul: Eren, 2004), 246 and her figures on 293.
[3] I was first alerted to this problem by Pierre Terjanian, curator of Arms and Armor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Literature on the history of painted shields is scant. Vladimír Denksein published a number of articles and short volumes on the painted wooden shield but confined his interests to the pavise style rectangular shape popular in central Europe in the fifteenth century. His works remain the authority on painted shields and their decorated surfaces. For an example of his works, see Vladimír Denkstein, Pavesen böhmischen Typs im Historischen Museum der Stadt Wien (Brno, 1964). For an article more specific to the angled shaped shield, though not as reliable from a scholarly point of view, see J. Bielz, “Die Hermannstädter Tartschen,” Mitteilungen aus dem Baron Bruken-thalischen Museum, Sibiu, 3 (1915): 32-40.
[4] Most major collections of arms and armor contain at least one example of such shields. One from each end of the spectrum hangs in the Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession numbers 1977-167-755 and 1977-167-756).
[5] János Kalmár, Régi magyar fegyverek (Budapest: Natura, 1971). The origin of the light cavalryman of Central Europe is a hotly debated topic filled with nationalistic rants from South Slavic, Hungarian, and Polish scholars, and I do not aim to choose a side in the debate.
[6] In an interesting article that questions the use of heraldry in the Ottoman Empire, Aleksandar Matkovski makes important connections between the European perception of Ottoman “coats of arms” and their real Balkan (or Central and Eastern European) counterparts. This, upon further exploration into the tricky world of heraldry, could lead to some more concrete evidence and conclusions about the shields in question. See Aleksandar Matkovski, “Les Blasons Représentant L’Empire Ottoman en Europe,” in International Congress of Turkish Art. IVème Congrès International D'art Turc: Aix-En-Provence, 10-15 Septembre 1971 (Aix-en-Provence: Éditions de l'Université de Provence, 1976), 123-143.
[7] According to Kalmar 1971, 312, this image comes from a 1514 printing of Sigismund Von Herberstein’s Rerum Moscoviticarum Comentarii [Notes upon Russia], however this book was not published until 1549. In looking through the versions of Herbstein’s publication that were available to me, I discovered a stylistically similar image on the edge of a map. See Sigismund Von Herberstein, Rerum Moscoviticarum Comentarii (Basle, 1571), 5 (unnumbered folio). Though the image here is different in subject matter, further research may lead to the original image. For a brief discussion of the accuracy of Herbstein’s images see J. L. Nevinson, “Siegmund von Herberstein: Notes on 16th Century Dress,” Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft fuer historische Waffen- und Kostum-Kunde 1, new series (1959): 86-93.
[8] Tibor S. Kovács, Huszár-Fegyverek a 15.-17. Században (Budapest: Martin Optiz Kiadó, 2010), 255-263.
[9] Shields such as the one shown were often included in rooms devoted to Turkish curiosities. See Ernst Petrasch, ed., Die Karlsruher Türkenbeute: die "Türckische Kammer" des Markgrafen Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden : die "Türckischen Curiositaeten" der Markgrafen von Baden-Durlach (München: Hirmer, 1991), in which the shield shown is catalogue no. 118.
[10] Nurham Atasoy, “1558 Tarihli “Süleymanname” ve Macar Nakkaş Pervane,“ Sanat tarihi yilligi 3 (1970): 167-196.      
[11] Corresponding text (1646 edition): “Ein Soldat des Morae Begi oder Regenten der Statt Modone“ [A soldier of Morae Begi of the regent of the state of Modon (Modoni, a Venetian colony on the Peloponnesian Peninsula conquered by the Ottomans in 1498)].
[12] For examples of these hybrid pseudo-Oriental armors see a the Hungarian zischagge helmets painted with ornamental patterns inspired by their Ottoman counterparts in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Waffensammlung, Vienna (inv. A878) and in the Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum [Hungarian National Museum], (inv. 55.3540). The one in the MNM is published in the catalogue of an exhibition on the last queen of Hungary before the Ottoman period, Bob van den Boogert and Jacqueline Kerkhoff, eds., Maria van Hongarije: koningin tussen keizers en kunstenaars 1505-1558 (Zwolle: Waanders, 1993), 82, cat. no. 65.  
[13] Jirousek 1995, 29.
[14] For just one example see St. Clair 1969, 413-414.


  1. Splendid article Robyn supported with excellent illustrations !

    Indeed these warriors were quite a blurry frontier phenomenon. Rycaut (in mid XVII c.) wrote that soldiery from the christian confines were of the "Potura" sort - i.e. "half-turks" who observed an admixture of Muslim and Christian beliefs.

    As to shields: while Kovacs might argue for an "uncomplicated Hungarian origin" his colleague Szabo (in A honfoglalóktól a huszárokig,2010) presents substantial evidence that the more convex variety of the shield has its origin in Western Balkans. (Funnily enough both also refer to the study by Kužič - a scholar who studied the shield forms found on period balkan gravestones- stecci). Regardless of "the true origins" these shields indeed seem to be like an evolutionary step from the targe commonly used by central european cavalrymen (e.g. Knights in kepes kronika, hrvoje missal etc.). 15th century depictions from Balkan stecci in fact suggest the existence of both varieties at roughly the same period and I get the impression that with time the shields actually grew larger and more convex.

    Again thanks for the intriguing article and best of luck to you and your blog in the new year.


  2. Dear Sir,

    I congratulation for this blog - and this port..

    But I have a small note.

    "The most recent study on the fifteenth and sixteenth century hussars discusses the evolution of the shield in a four page essay, accepting an uncomplicated Hungarian origin.[8]"

    It's not true!

    "a huszár tárcsapajzs a Nyugat-Balkán térségében jött létre a 15. század folyamán , majd a délszláv eredetű huszársággal került Magyarországra."
    Tibor S. Kovács, Huszár-Fegyverek a 15.-17. Században (Budapest: Martin Optiz Kiadó, 2010), p. 257.

    Best regards,
    János B. Szabó

  3. Ah! Thank you so much for catching that and I apologize deeply for the mistake. I just reread it and corrected it above. I must have gotten my notes mixed up. Januárban Budapesten leszek es remélem hogy talalkozhatnank. A maga munkaja nagyon erdekel. Majd jelentkezek az
    Best wishes,

    1. Kedves Dora!

      Elnézést, hogy a Robyn név miatt "fiúsítottam".
      Természetesen szívesen találkozom és beszélgetek Önnel majd, ha Budapesten jár.

      Addig is minden jót! :-)