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1 / Converging Cultures

The Sultan Mehmet II
The Sultan Mehmet II
Artist / Origin Attr. to Gentile Bellini (Italian, ca. 1429–1507)
Region: Europe
Date 1480
Material Oil (19th-century repaint) on canvas, possibly transferred from wood
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 27 ½ in. (69.9 cm.), W: 20 ½ in. (52.1 cm).
Location The National Gallery, London, UK
Credit Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

expert perspective

Alan ChongCurator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Sultan Mehmet II

» Attr. to Gentile Bellini (Italian, ca. 1429–1507)

expert perspective

Alan Chong Alan Chong Curator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

In 1452 Mehmet II, who is the sultan—the Ottoman sultan—conquers Istanbul, and this is, of course, extremely alarming to Venice. They see the possibility that the Islamic world would flood Europe, and Venice is the frontier state; it would be the first to fall. And this launches a huge war. And it’s a war that actually is settled only after years of conflict. And what’s remarkable about the peace treaty is that Mehmet II asks for Venetian artists to come to his court to work. He asks for a portrait painter. He’s curious about Italian art, about the accomplishments of the Renaissance, in short, and he wants to see it for himself. But he also wants to have art produced for him, for his court. The Venetians make sure that they select their most famous painter, a man named Gentile Bellini. They select a sculptor to go with him; they send at least five or six assistants to go with him and lots of materials, and they set sail for Istanbul. And this is a means of ensuring that the countries get along, at least for the foreseeable future. And it’s a period of enormous productivity. It’s just a couple of years, where this cultural exchange takes place, and we’re lucky enough that we have a few fascinating works of art that were produced at this time.” 

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