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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September

From the 15th century onwards Europeans displayed an increasing interest in Turkish music, textiles, carpets and way of life. Operas, plays and ballets featuring Turks and Turkish themes became popular, and audiences were first introduced to Turkish dress, behaviour and palace life through the medium of the stage. As well as his famous operas Abduction from the Seraglio and Zaide, Mozart composed music for a ballet with Süleyman the Magnificent as the main character, and four operas on Turkish themes by Rossini are other notable examples.

One of the best opportunities for the citizens of European capitals to become acquainted with Turkish costume and music was the ceremonial procession of the newly appointed Turkish ambassador into the city, advancing to the sound of marches played by a mehter band, or his reception at the royal palace.

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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September

Memories of such dazzling processions were not easily erased. When Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730) sent Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi as ambassador to France the procession was depicted by numerous artists. King Louis XV, who was ten years old when he received the ambassador, had a medal struck in his honour. Twenty years later Mehmed Çelebi's son Said Efendi was appointed ambassador, and the king presented him with a medal, too. Both of these medals are now in the collections of Topkapı Palace Museum. The French painter Jacques-André Aved painted a portrait of Said Efendi which is exhibited at Versailles.

Ottoman ambassadors acquainted Europeans with other aspects of Ottoman culture besides dress and mehter music. Evliya Çelebi, secretary to Kara Mehmed Pasa who was sent as ambassador to Vienna in 1664, recorded in the seventh volume of his Travels that concerts were organised for the people of Vienna, and that the retinue of the ambassador included entertainers of various kinds and wrestlers.

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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September
Their public displays are described in detail by Evliya Çelebi. Ibrahim Pasa was sent to Vienna to reestablish relations with Austria following the Carlowitz Treaty of 1699, and again organised various concerts and performances. Two tents were erected, one housing the Ottoman ambassador Ibrahim Pasa and his entourage, and the other a mehter band. Seesaws, swings and roundabouts were erected in the centre of the square, and dancers, matrak players (cudgellers), wrestlers and fencers fighting with two swords gave performances.

The arrival of Turkish ambassadors provided subject matter for playwrights. When Said Efendi was posted to Paris the renowned comedy writer Saint-Fox wrote a comedy with dancing and songs entitled Les Veuves Turques (Turkish Widows), and the subject of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is the embassy of Süleyman Aga to France in 1669.
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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September

The Turkish ceremony scene with dancing and music reflects the incident in which Süleyman Aga embarrassed the French minister of foreign affairs and King Louis XIV.

Ahmed Resmi Efendi was sent to Vienna in 1758 to announce the accession to the throne of Mustafa III, and Franz Hilverding the famous choreographer who happened to be in Vienna at that time wrote a ballet entitled Le Turc Généreux (The Generous Türk). A painter named B. Bellotto did an engraving illustrating the most important scene of this ballet, which was played on 20 April of the same year, and showing the theatre boxes close to the stage and the orchestra pit.

Ottoman textiles also attracted European attention, not only for the striking designs of the silk fabrics, but their production techniques.

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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) diplomatic relations between Ottoman Turkey and Britain commenced, and Britain sent spies to investigate the secrets of Turkish textiles, particularly dyes. The spies were given detailed written instructions about the information that was required and the examples they were expected to bring back. One such document asks for examples of the leaves, seeds, tree bark, earth, metal and bones used to obtain the colour blue. Another longer document explains that Turkish woollen fabrics are extremely soft and strong, easily dyed, and resistant to moth. Turkish carpets were also fashionable in Europe, and widely used in churches, palaces and mansions.

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Turkish fashions in Europe over the centuries
2002 / September

They appear in works by mainly Dutch and Italian painters, and these paintings are an important source of information for art historians about Turkish carpet designs in the early period represented by few surviving examples.

* Professor Dr Metin And is a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences.

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