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Lot 129





Estimate: 300'000 GBP   |   Starting price: 240'000 GBP ---
Mehmed II bin Murad (1444-1446h and 1451-1481h), Uniface Bronze Portrait Medal, attributed to Pietro da Milano (fl. c.1432-1466), c.1460, legend MAGNVS PRINCEPS ET MAGNVS AMIRAS SULTANVS DNS MEHOMET (“Great Prince and Great Amir, Sultan Lord Mehomet”), head to left in full profile, wearing a turban formed by neatly wound layers of cloth, along two folds of the turban are the letters PM, in the form of a monogram, above the turban is a patterned cap with a feather projecting from the rear, and rendered twice within the cap is the Arabic phrase li-llah; the bust is three-quarters facing, with a decorative, fur-collared robe or caftan, beneath which is a thin under-garment, rev plain, neat small suspension hole at the top, 92mm. A beautifully toned and very fine contemporary cast with a reddish-brown patina, extremely rare The magnus princeps Bronze Medal presents the earliest known portrait of Sultan Mehmed II. Made in the decade following the siege and capture of Constantinople in 1453, the medal is a significant historical document from the early period of Mehmed’s sultanate and of the greatest rarity. Prior to the discovery of the magnus princeps, the only reliable knowledge of Mehmed II’s appearance rested on two portraits produced towards the end of his life: one on a medal executed by Constanzo da Ferrara in the mid- to late 1470s, which shows the Sultan as corpulent, somewhat wizened and well into middle age; the other on a painting by Gentile Bellini, its elderly and now frail image of the Sultan having been taken shortly before his death in 1481. It is for his early conquests, and in particular the great victory at Constantinople and its foundation as capital city of the Ottoman Empire, that Mehmed II is today most widely remembered. Achieved at the extraordinarily young age of just twenty-one, it earned him considerable fame and the epithet ‘Mehmed the Conqueror’. However, no evidence of the Sultan’s physical appearance from this period was thought to have survived, and the mystery of how he looked as a young man has been one of the great imponderables of Ottoman scholarship. It is against this background that the magnus princeps medal has emerged, showing the great Ottoman emperor somewhere in his mid-twenties, for which preparatory sketches are likely to have been made in the mid- to late 1450s. The medal is a cast of very fine quality and the softly textured relief reveals skilful and sensitive handling. It has suffered little after more than five hundred years, with a surprising amount of detail present and only a small degree of wear over the higher points of its surface. Mehmed’s head and neck are shown in profile, while his torso has been gently rotated to a three-quarter view. He wears a wide-collared, embroidered garment that is fastened by four buttons. His caftan-type robe appears to enclose another garment, perhaps a dolman, consistent with the traditions of Ottoman royal attire. Bernard Lewis in his article on the Diwani-Humayun (Imperial Council) in EI 2 states that the practice of wearing a twisted turban (burma dulbend) when attending the diwan was introduced during the reign of Orhan, probably showing that it was for a public audience. It may have been during one or more of these that the artist was permitted to work on the portrait. On the narrow layers of twisted cloth which hold in place a soft, patterned cap is written in cursive script the word Allah (or lillåh) which appears twice in the weave (fig. 1). The text translates as ‘To God’ or ‘For God’ and represents a foreshortening of the kalima, the statement of faith. It can be observed by rotating the medal until the first letter of MAGNVS is uppermost, at which point li-llah comes into alignment. By turning the medal once more until the first letter of MEHOMET is uppermost, the point is reached where the repeated phrase comes into alignment. The characterful modelling of Mehmed’s portrait has almost certainly been based on sketches taken from life, and its rendition is the more remarkable given the medal’s shallow relief. So compelling is the portrait that the preparatory drawings and the wax model for the medal are likely to have been executed by the same artist. The design and lettering of the magnus princeps bear some similarities to the medallic work of Pietro (di Martino) da Milano, a master sculptor and occasional medallist, who worked first in Ragusa, but moved subsequently to Italy, and then elsewhere in Europe. The attribution to da Milano is supported by the presence of the letters P M, which have been discretely placed along two folds of Mehmed’s turban, in the form of a monogram, situated almost directly above his side-locks (fig. 2). It shows P lying on its back facing forward and downwards towards the Sultan’s brow. This P was in turn joined to the letter M on its side facing backwards and upwards towards the back of the turban. The medallists of the Italian Renaissance usually signed their medals on the reverse but, in this exceptional and most remarkable case, since the medal had a blank reverse it would appear that Pietro cleverly but modestly took credit for his work where it would not interfere with the design, but would still identify it as his own achievement. The period of facture for the magnus princeps, around 1460, occurred many years before a commercial market for medallic images of the Sultan had fully developed. This would help to explain the rarity of the medal, intended as it seems for personal gratification rather than general distribution. The circumstances in which the medal came to be made are not known, but Mehmed II’s interest in the genre, and his desire to have portraits of himself, are well documented. Mehmed Fatih was a many-sided genius who never failed to appreciate the good qualities of his new subjects and was eager to learn from those of cultures different from his own. It is recorded that in 1461 he received a letter from Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, praising him for his appreciation of portrait images, and stating that through bronze the faces and virtues of famous men become widely known. The noble and heroic portrayal of Mehmed II readily brings to mind his momentous victory at Constantinople in 1453, within just a few years of which this remarkably expressive portrait had been sketched and the medal cast. Re-discovered after more than five centuries, the magnus princeps medal provides an invaluable record of the great Ottoman ruler at the very height of his powers. Provenance: Christie’s (Rome), 14 December 2000, ‘Monete, medaglie, decorazioni e libri di numismatica’, lot 696. Recorded Examples: A poor quality bronze cast of much later facture, its detail largely indistinct, is in the Civiche Raccolte (Milan); an example in lead is in a private collection; and the existence of another, in lead or base metal, is yet to be confirmed. Literature: Babinger, Franz. Mehmed the Conqueror and his time (Bollinger series XCVI, Princeton, NJ 1978). Hill, George Francis. Corpus of Renaissance Medals, 2 vols. text and plates (1930). Raby, Julian. ‘Pride and Prejudice: Mehmed the Conqueror and the Italian Portrait Medal’, Italian Medals (ed. J. G. Pollard). Symposium Papers VIII (Washington, 1984). Spinale, Susan, Reassessing the So-Called ‘Tricaudet Medal’ of Mehmed II’, 3-22, The Medal 42 (2003). The medallist’s monogram was discovered by the Islamic scholar and academic Robert Darley-Doran.. £300,000-400,000

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