Reading Ottoman Costume Albums in Early Modern Europe

By Helen Pfeifer

“Palafreniero Regio, e di Bassa,” Foggie diverse di vestire de’ Turchi, Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Cod. It. IV 491 (5578), fol. 41r.Some version of this Ottoman miniature (image forthcoming) exists in at least half a dozen costume albums housed in collections all across Europe, including Berlin, London, Paris, Stockholm, and Venice. In all of these albums, the figure is just one of many individuals shown carrying, playing, and selling various things. Yet what exactly is the man doing? What is he carrying under his arm? What is his place within the Ottoman imperial hierarchy? These are questions that early modern European readers struggled to answer as they faced an unfamiliar visual tradition and the complex social and cultural realities that tradition aimed to represent.   Although all of the albums share a stock set of images painted by Ottoman artists, each book differs in the selection and sequence of figures as well as in the content of the accompanying captions. Rather than focus on the iconography of single images, I will examine these books holistically to explore how Europeans made sense of the hierarchies and social practices of the Ottoman Empire. As curious as Ottoman miniatures may have seemed to Europeans, the coded world of ceremony and rank they depicted was recognizable. How Europeans used costume albums to mediate between the foreign and the familiar is the subject of this talk.

Helen Pfeifer Helen Pfeifer is a Lecturer in Early Ottoman History at the University of Cambridge. Her current book project focuses on sociability, the circulation of culture and the management of human diversity in sixteenth-century Ottoman lands. She is also interested in broader histories of early modern contact and encounter, especially as pursued through collaborative research.