National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

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Gentile Bellini
Venetian, 1429 - 15072
Mehmed II, 1430-1481, Sultan of the Turks 1451
obverse, c. 1480, bronze/Later casting, diameter: 9.2 cm (3 5/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Image: Gentile Bellini
Venetian, 1429 - 1507
Mehmed II, 1430-1481, Sultan of the Turks 1451, obverse, c. 1480
bronze//Later casting, diameter: 9.2 cm (3 5/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection

In 1479 Mehmed sent to the Venetian republic a request for a sculptor and bronze founder, and also for a good painter. Gentile Bellini was the foremost painter in Venice at the time, and the republic's government dispatched him to Istanbul only one month after receiving Mehmed's request. The choice of Gentile and his prompt departure reflect Venice's urgent need to resume trade with the Ottoman empire soon after a humiliating peace treaty that concluded a sixteen-year-long war. To assure the sultan's favor and respect, Gentile gave him a precious sketchbook (Musée du Louvre, Paris) by his father Jacopo (c. 1390/1400–c. 1470/1471). A sculptor apparently sent later proved inadequate, since Mehmed continued to request more sculptors and bronze casters from Venice and elsewhere.

The wan image of the sultan on the medal, which Gentile designed but was probably executed by assistants, presumably predates Gentile's painted portrait of Mehmed dated November 25, 1480 (National Gallery, London), in which he appears thin and wasted from his ultimately fatal illness. Gentile reportedly portrayed other persons in the court, and painted some lascivious images and an icon of the Madonna and Child to decorate the new Topkapi palace, to which the sultan had withdrawn to conceal his illness.

The three crowns on the medal's reverse refer to kingdoms within Mehmed's empire—Greece, Asia, and Trebizond, while Gentile's inscription boastfully cites honors received from the German emperor Frederick III (r. 1440–1493) in 1469. Shortly after he returned to Venice, Gentile bragged in an inscription below a painting that Mehmed had rewarded him with a knighthood and rich gifts, including the heavy gold necklace that he later depicted himself wearing.

Insciptions: On the obverse, MAGNI SVLTANIFMOHAMETI IMPERATORIS [(portrait of) the Great Sultan Mehmed Emperor]; on the reverse, . GENTILIS BELLINVS VENETVS EQVES AVRATUS COMES . Q[ue] . PALATINVS . F[ecit] . [Gentile Bellini, Venetian, gilded knight and count palatine, made it]

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