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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

Additional Resources

Brown, Patricia Fortini. Art and Life in Renaissance Venice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005 reissue.

Campbell, Caroline, Alan Chong, Deborah Howard, and J. Michael Rogers. Bellini and the East. London: National Gallery, London in association with Yale University Press, 2005.

Carboni, Stefano. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

“Gentile Bellini and the East (December 14, 2005–March 26, 2006).” Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Web site. http://www.gardnermuseum.org/collection/exhibitions/past_exhibitions/gentile_bellini_and_the_east?filter=exhibitions:3318.

Mack, Rosamond E. Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.

The Sultan Mehmet II

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

In 1453, Constantinople (later renamed Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks.

This conquest of the capital of the Byzantine Empire marked a turning point for the Ottomans. For the remainder of the fifteenth century, the Turks posed a major threat to European powers, particularly in Italy. Poised at the threshold between East and West, Venice not only benefited from trade with Islam, but also found itself facing incursions by ambitious Ottoman leaders. For sixteen years, Venice was able to hold its own in a war with the Turks, but ultimately was forced to conclude peace in 1479.

The Venetians had not only gained wealth and power through their successful maritime trade, but had also acquired keen diplomatic skills. It was customary for the Venetian government to send ambassadors and other trade officials to work with foreign leaders and to exchange gifts in order to facilitate negotiations. Recognizing the potential of the artist to fulfill a similar role, the Venetian senate sent renowned painter Gentile Bellini to Constantinople as part of the 1479 peace settlement. As a cultural ambassador of sorts, Bellini worked primarily for Mehmet II (r. 1444–46; 1451–81), painting the sultan’s portrait and producing bronze medals bearing his likeness.

This portrait, attributed to Bellini, identifies Mehmet as Victor Orbis, or Conqueror of the World. The sultan’s depiction, which was heavily repainted in the nineteenth century, fuses elements of European and Islamic culture. Bellini depicts the sultan under an arch and in near profile—both associated with power in the West since the time of the Roman Empire. Yet Mehmet is also represented in the trappings of Islamic power. In addition to a deep red caftan and luxurious brown fur mantle, the sultan wears a wrapped turban over a red taj, a headdress indicative of his rank as well as his identity as a Muslim.


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