Thomas Hope

 

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A Visual Study of Thomas Hope

John Rodenbeck

In addition to the triumph and decline of neo-classicism and Egyptomania, Thomas Hope lived through other cultural changes. One was a shift of fashion in England from Turcomania to Philhellenism, two attitudes that may now seem incompatible, though both are reflected in Anastasius. Hope was indeed a neo-Classicist and a fervent admirer of the arts and culture of ancient Greece, but he was no Philhellene and found much to love in Ottoman Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire had been a powerful European presence for centuries. Its terri­tories included what are now Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Rumania, Moldova, Al­bania, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, most of Hungary and Slovakia, and parts of southern Poland and Ukraine, where things as basic as everyday language, cuisine, music, and multitudinous place-names still testify to Ottoman influence and authority. Abutting the empires of Austria and Russia, the Empire frequently acted in alliance with France to curb the challenge of Habsburgs or Romanovs.

This Franco-Ottoman partnership was the reason for the ten-month visit to France of Lala Süleyman Ağa, Chief Eunuch, former Governor of the Abode of Felicity, special envoy to the young Louis XIV (1638-1715) from the even younger Sultan Mehmet IV (1642-1693). Lasting from August 1669 to May 1670, his sojourn inspired at least one permanent monument. Heading an entourage of twenty, Süleyman remained visibly un­impressed by the Sun King’s displays of luxury and pomp. To one clueless French courtier who asked him if he had observed the quality and number of Louis’s diamonds, Süleyman remarked that in both respects the Sun King was worse bedizened than the Ottoman Sultan’s horse.

Almost immediately after Süleyman’s departure, Louis requested Molière (1622-1673) and Lully (1632-1687) to compose a comic ballet with Turkish themes, for which a famous adventurer attached to the court, the Chevalier d’Arvieux (1635-1702), would supply technical advice. The result was a theatrical masterpiece, Le Bourgeois Gentil­homme (1670), in which both Molière and Lully performed rôles and which includes a hilarious Turkish episode, accompanied by Lully’s pseudo-Turkish music.

During the same era a multi-volumed work called The Turkish Spy, published first in France in 1684, inaugurated the vogue for “Oriental” letters that would come to include Montesqieu’s Lettres persanes (1721, 1754) and Goldsmith’s “Chinese Letters” (The Citizen of the World, 1762). The beginning of real Turcomania in Western Europe could probably be assigned, however, to 1721, when the Grand Vezir Nevflehirli Damat Ibrahim Pasha sent Yirmisekiz Çelebi zâde Mehmet Effendi at the head of another major embassy, this time to the court of Philippe d’Orléans (1673-1723). For the next six decades or so the polite and cultivated classes throughout Europe delectated in the Turkish Novel and Turkish Tale – let us recall that the garden where the hero of Voltaire’s Candide (1759) finally does his cultivating is in fact in Turkey – the Turkish Comedy, the Turkish Opera, interior decoration and even architecture à la turc, not to mention Turkish picnics and masquerade balls. The notion that Turcomania in Europe arose from the Turkish Embassy Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is ob­vious nonsense: their posthumous publication in 1763, some 45 years after her return from a 14-month stay in Constantinople, was clearly not a cause of Turcomania, but rather one of its effects.

One of the more lasting influences during this period came from Turkish military bands, which were acquired by the courts of Saxony, Poland, Russia, Austria, France, and several other countries. Playing Turkish music, they demonstrated the use of cymbals, the triangle, and the bass drum to composers like Mozart (1756-1791). The disguises worn by Ferrando and Guglielmo as “Albanians” in Così fan tutte are, of course, Turkish military uniforms; and Mozart created Turkish effects in the finale of the piano sonata in A major, K. 331, in Entführung aus dem Serail, and in his Six German Dances, K. 571. So did Haydn (1732-1809) (e.g., in the second movement of the “Military” Symphony, no. 100 in G major) and Beethoven (1770-1827) (e.g., in his incidental music for The Ruins of Athens, in the march preceding the tenor solo – “Froh, wie seine Sonne fliegen” – in the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, and in several of his Twelve German Dances). And so did many other contemporary and subsequent makers of Western music, where Turkish effects have remained a permanent and recog­nizable feature. A superb Archiv recording by Concerto Köln and Sarband, The Waltz: Ecstasy and Mysticism, released in 2005, explores the mutual influences between Ger­manic and Turkish music during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

At the height of eighteenth-century Turcomania, even untravelled artists like Lancret (1690-1743), Étienne Jeaurat (1699-1789), Jacques de Lajouë 1686-1761), Jacques Aved (1702-1766), Boucher (1703-1770), and Jean-Baptiste Leprince (1734-1781) made portraits of such models as the marquise de Sainte-Maure, the marquise de Pleu­martin, the marquise de Bonne, and the comtesse de Magnac in authentic Turkish dress, while Fragonard (1732-1806) would paint a series of erotically idealized sultans and sultanas. For his patroness, Mme. de Pompadour, who became the Louis XV’s maît­resse en titre in 1745, Carle van Loo (1705-1765) painted three decorative works in which Turkish costumes clothe ideal figures in neo-classic settings.

The great Swiss-born artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), who had actually lived in Constantinople and himself customarily wore Turkish clothes, now made por­traits in Turkish garb of such highly placed subjects as Princess Marie-Adelaïde (1732-1800), fourth daughter of Louis XV and the only one actually reared at Court. In England likewise, which he visited in 1754-55 and again in 1772-1774, Liotard painted ladies of the nobility and gentry in Turkish dress. His local rivals and imitators in the same costume portrait genre included major painters like Joshua Reynolds (1724-1792), George Romney (1734-1802), and John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), as well as minor ones like Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) and Francis Cotes (1724-1770). George Willison (1741-1797), who specialized in demi-mondaines, based his portrait of the fashionable prostitute Nancy Parsons on a picture of Liotard’s presumed to be of Maria Gunning, Duchess of Coventry. Even after the rise of neo-Classical styles, in the early years of the following century, the shawl and the turban – both words are Persian in origin, the latter entering English by way of Turkish – remained essential to the cos­tume repertoire of well-dressed European or American women.

Meanwhile in 1762 Antoine de Favray (1706-1798) followed Liotard’s example and went to Constantinople itself, where he stayed nine years, painting genre scenes and official records of another generation of foreign dignitaries. Notable are two portraits: the first, painted in 1766, of Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes (1717-1787), French ambassador to Constantinople (1754-1768); and the second, painted two years later, of the ambassador’s freshly acquired native-born wife, Annette Duvivier de Testa (1730-1798). The comtesse had previously been married to one of the Testa, a prominent Genoese family already settled in Pera for several centuries. Widowed at the age of 24, she had become the ambassador’s mistress and bore him two children before their marriage. Vergennes went on under Louis XVI to become Foreign Minister and win fame as the central figure in promoting official and vigorous French support for the American Revolution. Favray portrayed both in Turkish dress. Favray’s own self-portrait, painted in 1778, after his return to France, shows him also in Turkish dress, with a Rousseauistic qalpaq on his head, but wearing the cross of the Knights of Malta and a quizzical expression, posed as if drawing back a curtain to disclose a tourist’s distant view of Ayasofya/Hagia Sophia and the Theodosian wall.

Equally significant with such works of art were more ephemeral appearances of Tur­kish clothing, for both men and women, at such occasions as masked balls, routs, and receptions. The famous Turkish reception given at Fonthill during Christmastide of 1781 by the 22-year-old William Beckford (1759-1844) lasted three days and was an occasion so inimitable that it may have marked the apogee of Turcomania which, like all fashions, was to have its day. Dressing authentically à la turc could hardly have sur­vived in any case the clothing reforms instituted in 1826 and 1829 under Mahmut II (1808-1839) in the Empire itself, when a standard and style of clothing began to be adapted from the Western dress that was so uniform, drab, joyless, and prosaic as to discourage imitation. Men surrendered early to this change, but it took nearly a century for Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) to complete Mahmut’s revolution by extending it to women. The portraits of men and women dressed in traditional pre-reform Ottoman clothes continued to be painted, of course, but with an additional element of affected anti­quarianism.

In 1798, nearing 30, and recently returned from Constantinople, Hope had himself painted in Turkish dress. Such a gesture, as we have just seen, had been customary among Eastern travellers for at least a century earlier and would remain a fanciful indulgence, even among ordinary citizens, for three or four decades afterwards. The famous portrait that ensued, by Sir William Beechey, RA (1753-1839) acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1967, shows Hope wearing an outfit that has been mis­takenly identified as the uniform of a low-ranking Greek sailor, thus missing the point of the picture. The costume is in fact mentioned early in the novel itself (Volume I. Chapter III):

 

I swore I would some day, cost what it might, doff my uncouth headdress for one of these smart turbans of gilt brocade, worn with such a saucy air over one ear by the Pasha’s Tshawooshes – gentlemen who were seen everywhere, lounging about as if they had nothing to do but display their handsome legs, their vests stiff with gold lace, and their impudent bullying faces.

 

Tshawoosh or tchawoosh – Hope uses both spellings – is equivalent to the modern Turkish çavufl and, according to context, means “officer, sergeant, usher, or huissier. In Volume I, Chapter XIV the costume is described at length and in detail:

 

In the refinements of his toilet . . . Aly tchawoosh [Aly is an officer in the entourage of the Kapudan-Pasha, the Grand Admiral, precisely one of “the Pasha’s Tshawooshes” whose clothing Anastasius had envied earlier] might be considered as a finished Osman­lee. Nothing could excel the exquisite taste of his apparel. His turban attracted the eye less even by the costliness of texture than by its elegance of form. A band of green and gold tissue, diagonally crossing the forehead, was made completely to conceal one ear, and as completely to display the other . . . . His dress of the finest broadcloth and velvet, made after the most dashing Barbary cut, was covered all over with gold embroidery, so thickly embossed as to appear almost massive. His chest, uncovered down to the girdle, and his arms bared up to the shoulder, displayed all the bright polish of his skin. His capote was draped so as with infinite grace to break the too formal symmetry of his costume. In short, his handjar [dagger] with its gilt handle, his watch with its concealed miniature, his tobacco pouch of knitted gold, his pipe mounted in opaque amber, and with his pistols with diamond-cut hilt, were all in the style of the most consummate petit maître; and if, spite of all his pains, my friend Aly was not without exception the hand­somest man in the Ottoman empire, none could deny his being one of the best dressed, His air and manner harmonized with his attire. A confident look, an insolent and sneering tone, and an indolent yet swaggering gait, bespoke him to be, what indeed it was his utmost ambition to appear, a thorough rake.

 

Hope obviously saw Aly’s costume as a work of art, as Lord Byron (1788-1824) did the Albanian costume he bought a decade later in Ottoman Greece. Such clothes, Byron wrote to his mother, on 12 November 1809, were “magnifiques” and “the only expen­sive items in this country.” Five years later Byron had himself painted in his Albanian costume by Thomas Philips, who also made two copies, one of which is now in the National Portrait Gallery, the other in the office of John Murray, publisher of both Byron and Hope. The original hangs in the British Embassy in Athens; and Byron’s costume itself, given by the poet to Lady Elphinstone for use in masquerades, is now on display in Bowood House, Wiltshire.

Similar costumes to Hope’s are shown on one plate in the classic work on the sub­ject, Field Marshal Mahmud Salih cArif Pasha’s Les anciens costumes de l’Empire Ottomane depuis l’origine de la Monarchie jusqu’à la Réforme du Sultan Mahmoud [Majmucat tesavir cuthmani] (Paris: Lemercier, n.d. [ca. 1863-]: Plate 5, the only plate devoted to the pre-reform Ottoman navy, shows the Grand Admiral with his chef des pages and five other representative members of his entourage, all dressed rather like Hope’s Aly, none displaying any obvious insignia. One of them, who is shirtless and turbanless, is identified in the Field Marshal’s commentary (pp. 16-17 of the accom­panying text) as merely an able seaman, but the others are all styled çavufl. The two most senior (figures 18 and 19) sport yatagans, rather than khanjars. The figure that most nearly resembles the description from Anastasius is number 20, an officer in the marine detachment called “The Naked Sailors.”

The figure that most obviously resembles the portrait itself, however, is number 22, an officer of the Galata Detachment. Field Marshal cArif Pasha notes that they are all wearing the slippers peculiar to the Terskhane (= modern Turkish tersane), the Ship­yard, headquarters of the Admiralty, often translated as the “Arsenal/Arsénal/ Arsenale.” (Both the Turkish word and the English/French/Italian words come from the Arabic dar flinâcah, “place of manufacture,” but the Western meanings have wandered much further from their Eastern source.) cArif Pasha confesses that as a youngster in the early 1820s he “developed a taste for this curious and brilliant costume” and won the authorization of his grandfather to have a complete ensemble made, which he wore on outings with friends.

Hope not only shared, but anticipated the Field Marshal’s taste. In his portrait the turban is more gold than green, he has not bared his chest, and the pistols have been laid aside, but all the other elements in the description of Aly’s appearance are present, the watch and tobacco pouch being suggested by the gold chains to which they are attach­ed. The presence of the latter is additionally confirmed by the lighted and burning çibuq, the long pipe held in Hope’s left hand, its smoking head at rest on the ground, one of the necessary accoutrements of an Ottoman gentleman. Hope’s figure has been described as wearing two cloaks draped over a shoulder, but it may well be just one, of red broadcloth lined with green silk.

He seems also not to be bare-legged, as has been suggested, but to be wearing plain rose-colored hose, like figures 20 and 22 in the Field Marshal’s Plate 5 and in contrast with figures 18 and 19, the two senior officers, whose hose are elaborately embroidered. Other details are even more interesting. The large gold-encrusted oval visible in the lower corner of the right-hand side of the outermost of Hope’s two sleeveless jackets frames a tuğra – a calligraphic device that is normally a monogrammed full name – embroidered in gold thread. An edge of its mate shows on the other side from beneath the model’s left hand.

The two yeleks or sleeveless jackets worn by Hope in the portrait are in fact now in the possession of the National Portrait Gallery, a gift of Mrs. H. W. Law, Hope’s great-granddaughter, in 1968. Thanks to Erika Ingham and the staff of the Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery, I had the privilege of examining them personally in early April 2007 and found some interesting details.

The only tuğra visible in the portrait, for example, has been depicted backwards and is therefore more or less illegible, but this state of things is not due to any mistake by the artist, who has shown the clothes exactly as they looked to him and still are: the reversed and illegible tuğra on the left-hand side of Hope’s outer yelek is in fact a mirrored version of another tuğra concealed on the right lapel, which is leg­ible, but nevertheless enigmatic. Two tuğras, one the mirror-image of the other, are also em­broid­ered on the scarlet under-yelek, but are concealed in the portrait by Hope’s cummerbund. They are in reversed positions from those on the outer yelek, with the legible one on Hope’s left and its mirrored opposite this time on his right. As a comparison of it with the original por­trait and with these garments indicates, the photographic version of the portrait printed both on the cover of Cornucopia, Volume I, Issue 5, 1993/1994, and with the text of the cover article, which shows the one visible tuğra running in the right direction and thus theoretically legible, has in fact been reversed, no doubt in the interest of good cover design.

Hope deliberately had himself portrayed as a Turkish Muslim: the richness of his apparel alone indicates that no Christian is depicted here and certainly no low-ranking Greek sailor. Under the empire’s sumptuary laws even red slippers of the kind he wears in this portrait were specifically allowed only to Muslims. John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869), Byron’s travelling companion in the Ottoman Empire, noted in his diary entry for Wednesday, 30 May 1810, that Selim’s first act as sultan, more than two decades earlier, had been to oversee the beheading of a Greek whom he had informally encoun­tered and who had been imprudently shod in slippers of a colour forbidden within the Empire to his nation and religion.

Behind Hope in the portrait is not just a generic mosque or a tourist’s view of Aya­sofya, moreover, but a specific view of the fifteenth-century mosque of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, Standard-Bearer of the Prophet, at Eyüp Sultan on the Golden Horn, which Beechey copied from a rendering of the same view that was recorded and preserved by Hope himself. It still exists among the drawings Hope assembled in Athens and Con­stantinople, five volumes of which are now owned by the Benaki Museum.

Hope’s watercolour and sepia version of this view already had special historical value: it depicted the Abu Ayyub mosque as he saw it during his lengthy sojourn in Constantinople, i.e., as it was before it was demolished (in 1798, having been damaged by an earthquake in 1766) and rebuilt (in 1800). Its two minarets, which had survived the earthquake intact, were retained; and reconstruction followed the original plan, but a band of fenestration was added to the dome to create a clerestory. Hope and Beechey thus show us the architecture as it looked originally, before this innovative addition.

The most sacrosanct spot in Constantinople, the mosque of Abu Ayyub at Eyüp Sultan, remains a Muslim pilgrimage site and is surrounded by the cemeteries that sup­plied Hope with a wealth of fountains, tombs, and monuments from which to copy the Ottoman design-motifs that are recorded in the same albums. Executed either by Hope himself or by an artist he commissioned, this particular view was coincidentally pub­lished in the cover article on Hope in Cornucopia, Volume I, Issue 5, which also shows examples of these design-motifs, one of which actually appears in the portrait, as the uppermost of the two decorative elements in the wall on Hope’s left. Probably under Hope’s exacting instructions, Beechey thus almost certainly made use of these albums for the background of the portrait. A footman would have been sent with them to the artist’s house and studio in Harley Street, which were a mere three-minute walk from Hope’s house in Duchess Street.

Beechey went on to paint many other portraits, but none as brilliant. At least two, one of which is now in the superb collection of British portraits at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, likewise depicted a sitter in Oriental dress. The sitter for both was Mirza Abu’l-Hassan Khan, Ambassador Plenipotentiary of Persia in London from 1809 to 1811, who recorded in his diaries his delight at encountering the artist’s children during sessions in Harley Street.

Hope’s portrait was displayed in the Royal Academy for several months in 1799, then hung prominently in the staircase-hall of the house in Duchess Street, where an enamel copy by Henry Bone (1755-1832?) was displayed nearby. A pencil drawing by Bone for this enamel is also in the National Portrait Gallery. Two watercolour copies by G. P. Harding (1780-1853) are in the British Museum. The portrait was then, it seems, eventually moved to the dining room at the Deepdene, Hope’s country residence in Surrey. A variant painted by Adam Buck (1759-1833) dating from 1805, showing Hope in a different costume with a felucca in the background, is in the collection of the Society of Dilettanti.  Hope also commissioned another portrait of himself in Turkish dress in 1805 from Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), but the commission was never fulfilled.

 

 

Home

Thomas Hope - Triumph, Tragedy: Obverse Worlds

Anastasius

Anastasius:  Towards Background and Meaning

Philosophy

Interior Design

A Study of the Beechey Portrait

Sándor Baumgarten, Hope's Forgotten Champion

 

'Racial' Politics and Personal Ethics

Contact us

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