Art of Travel: Bartholomaus Schachman

Inside the Orientalist Museum exhibition Discuss this article

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So, what is this exhibit?
One of the most popular travel destinations among nobles, wealthy merchants, travellers and diplomats during the sixteenth century was the world of the Ottoman Empire, as European-Ottoman relations pervaded the centuries, combining cultural, political and economic interests. So there was increasing demand for pictorial as well as written records of life in the Ottoman world. Travellers and diplomats commissioned artists as an essential part of their duty to bring back to their countries as much information as possible on all things Turkish.

One such record is an album dated 1590 and commissioned by Bartholomäus Schachman, mayor of Danzig, traveller and explorer, art patron and collector, benefactor and connoisseur. His journey through the Ottoman Empire lasted two years (1588–89), and his album, conveying the tale of his adventures, became one of the greatest travelogues of the sixteenth century. After years of restoration, conservation, research and study, the Orientalist Museum presents an exhibition of what can be technically termed “one artwork”, mainly focusing on a single document – Schachman’s travel album.

It contains a large number of full-page watercolour drawings, documenting what he saw during his travels, depicting the costumes and people of the Empire, together with scenes of everyday life, festivals and ceremonies, presenting the fully illustrated drama of sixteenth century life in the Ottoman Empire.

The pages of the album are on display along with related artworks, books, documents and other historical objects from the Orientalist Museum’s own collection and other institutions from Poland – Gdansk National Museum, Gdansk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Especially significant in this context are the loans from Schachman’s native city: the only existing portrait of Schachman, books from his personal library collection and his Album Amicorum from the university years. These documents and artworks provide the visitor with a fascinating and vivid view back in time to sixteenth-century Danzig and Istanbul.

Why do this?
The concept of the exhibition is vital for developing and sustaining a dialogue between different religions, nations, cultures and traditions; it supports and fosters a mutual interest in each other’s history. The exhibition will undoubtedly become one of the most significant yearly cultural events in Gdan´sk and Doha.

What’s so special about this moment in time?
Bartholomäus Schachman’s life began and ended at a time of major political and religious upheaval in Europe, a time of grand geographical discoveries, a time when both the religious and secular arts flourished, a time of great expansion for the Ottoman Empire. European–Ottoman relations intervened throughout the centuries, combining cultural, political and economic interests. The way these relations were reflected in art and culture demonstrates variations following political alliances, victories and defeats, diplomatic relations, commercial ventures, and art projects.

During the sixteenth century a number of travellers and artists from different countries have been recorded as being visitors to the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul often accepted foreign embassies and missions and members of those consuls were also the first true sources of information on Ottoman politics and culture, having a major impact on the establishment of a positive image for the Empire. Schachman travelled through the Empire during the reign of one of the most controversial figures in the Ottoman history, Sultan Murad III.

“Stay-inhome” Sultan Murad III drew a considerable amount of criticism because he did not lead any conquering armies. His reign was marked by wars with Safavids and Habsburgs and Ottoman economic deterioration and institutional decay – the turning point in the Empire’s fortunes. At the same time the Sultan was engaged in very active international political practices. He was in direct correspondence with Queen Elizabeth I and it was during this period that the Ottoman–British trade relations were established. During Murad III’s reign Genoese, Venetian, Dubrovnic, British and French merchants had the right to trade in the Ottoman harbours. Murad III took a great interest in the arts, particularly in miniatures and books, science and architecture (the famous architect Sinan built many masterpieces until his death). It is also known that the Sultan was very interested in European art.

So tell me a bit about Bartholomäus Schachman. Who was he? Why did he go on his journey? And why did he document it?
Bartholomäus Schachman was traveler and explorer, art patron and collector, and mayor. He received an excellent education for that time. In 1579–80, together with his younger brother Jan, he studied at the Krakow Academy, continuing his education in 1581 at the Academic Gymnasium in Danzig. From 1582 Schachman continued with his “tutoring” spending some time in educational centres in Strasbourg, Basel and Siena. Afterwards Schachman continued his theoretical education through travel and set on a journey through the Ottoman Empire, which lasted two years, from 1588 to 1589, and his album, conveying the tale of his adventures, became one of the greatest sixteenth-century travelogues. Its watercolours provide a detailed account of his fascinating journey. Upon returning from the Grand Tour, Schachman decided to settle down and his political career gradually progressed – in 1594 he became a city councillor – and in 1605 he was elected as the city mayor. The time of his administration was one of the finest periods in the history of Danzig. The city owes him its rise to artistic prominence.

Let’s talk about the art: who did them? What do they depict?
The travel album of Bartholomäus Schachman consists of one hundred and five full-page watercolour and pencil drawings on paper. The frontispiece is decorated with an illustration of Bartholomäus Schachman’s coat of arms, his miniature portrait, written name and the date 1590. Almost all the watercolours in the album are inscribed with old German inscriptions in iron gall ink, describing the subject of the image.

Nearly half of the watercolours are genre scenes, depicting everyday events witnessed by Schachman in several geographical locations. But only a few main cities and locations can be identified with certainty based on the inscriptions, though sometimes these are not entirely legible – Istanbul, Caramania, Cairo, Jerusalem, Crete, Chios, Mytilene, Rhodes, Patmos, Tripoli, Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik in Croatia) and Curzola (present-day Korcˇula in Croatia).

Close examination and detailed analysis allow us to suggest that more than one hand seems to have painted the images. Quick and spontaneous brushstrokes in one case, asymmetrical composition in another, and fine details in the third demonstrate obvious differences in the painting style of at least three artists. One of them may have been accompanying Schachman on his journey (or he may have been the member of an embassy circle in Istanbul), the second might have been Schachman himself, the third artist was most probably commissioned upon Schachman’s return to Danzig to complete the series of genre watercolours with single-figure portraits.

What are some of the customs depicted?
The watercolours can be divided into ten groups, according to their subject, theme or genre. The first group is dedicated to religion and charity – the illustrations of different religious orders in the Ottoman Empire, images of mosques and churches, acts of charity known of in the Ottoman society. The second group includes images of the funeral ceremonies of Muslims, Christians and Jews. The third group is dedicated to celebrations and games, illustrating the most important religious celebrations and sports activities, mostly in Istanbul. Group four tells us about the everyday life of the people Schachman encountered during his travels. The fifth group – bathing ceremonies, describing and illustrating every aspect of bathing and hygiene. The sixth – the fate of slaves, i.e. illustrations depicting the role and destiny of slaves in the Ottoman Empire, where they were regarded as very precious possessions. The seventh is a set of images of punishments for major and minor crimes. The eighth consists of illustrations of caravans and watercolours related to trade activities. The ninth includes examples of agricultural activities. And the tenth group, the largest of all, consists of single-figure costume portraits.

What would these have looked like to people in Bartholomaus’ day? Is it different from today?
The idea of an illustrated album with images of exotic figures and genre scenes was quite common during the late sixteenth century, when European ambassadors, merchants and other travellers made it customary to leave an illustrated record of their encounters in the Ottoman Empire. Important dignitaries and noblemen were very often commissioning such mementos, either as curiosities to be kept in their libraries or cabinets, or as souvenirs, which documented their journeys to foreign or exotic places.

Particular interest in such rather risky and dangerous journeys was predetermined by the lack of knowledge about the cultures and traditions of other peoples.

Such tradition is active until now, but practiced through contemporary technologies – we make pictured with our cameras, ipads and other tools, and such records are our own “travel albums”, where we are expressing the individual travellers’ personal visions, documenting their experiences of extraordinary meetings, capturing and portraying other societies and cultures, assuring the remembrance of the world.
Art of Travel runs until Feb 11 at the Al Riwaw Doha Exhibition Space, Sun, Mon, Wed, 10.30am-5.30pm; Thurs, Sat noon-8pm; Fri 2pm-8pm. Entrance is QR25. aot.qma.org.qa

By Time Out Doha Staff
Time Out Doha,

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