Lot 112
  • 112


200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 26.5 by 18cm.
watercolour and gouache on paper, 124 leaves plus 2 fly-leaves, in a brown binding with leather spine, accompanied by a type-written sheet of paper numbering and describing the illustrations in French 


From the collection of an Ambassador to Iran, thence by decent.
Acquired by the current owner in 1987.


In overall good condition, some of the leaves are loose, minor stains and rubbing to the paintings and some discoloration,occasional folds, notes added in Ottoman Turkish and French in both pen and pencil, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The limited information we have about the artist of this album is via an article published in 1912 by Sherif Abdulkadir Huseyin Hasim. Since Sherif didn't publish his sources he remains the only source of Fenerci Mehmed's life. The name Fenerci derives from his previous occupation; Mehmed was in fact a lantern (fener) maker and became a painter only after his shop burned down in Fethiye, during the Bayezid fire. Although he painted various subjects and scenes (sea, ships and animals), he was particularly gifted in painting human figures and it is in this milieu that Mehmed made his fortune. His works made it as far as the Ottoman court, and his Anthology (Mecmua-i tesavir) is recorded to have been in the library of Hattar Ali Haydar Bey. It is also thought that Sultan Abdulaziz (r.1861-76) asked to see his works. He died in the middle of the nineteenth century, either at the end of the reign of Mahmud II (r.1808-39) or at the beginning of the reign of Abdulmecid (r.1839-61).

The term 'costume album' defines a book which contains portrait of individuals in different costumes; these were produced mainly for a foreign audience who wished to obtain detailed images of the different costumes worn at the time in Istanbul and had been common in Ottoman culture since at least the beginning of seventeenth century.

Three other albums painted by Fenerci Mehmed are known: one in the Topkapi Palace (inv. no.A.3690) composed of ninety-seven illustrations; one in the Istanbul University Library copy (inv. no.9362) with thirty-two paintings, and another in the Rahmi Koç collection, bearing ninety-seven plates, and including a colophon naming the artist and the year of completion (1226 AH/1811 AD). Occasionally single leaves or small groups of these watercolours have appeared on the market (most recently two sets of six plates at Alif Art, Istanbul, 26 May 2018, lot 242 and 243. An entire album, however, is incredibly rare, especially with such a large number of plates.

The present album gives us a comprehensive catalogue of the costumes of the Topkapi palace in the nineteenth century and the different costumes worn by the military during official ceremonies. Each subject is numbered and identified in Ottoman Turkish and later in French.

The various portraits encountered in this album can be divided into three main categories: characters who belonged to the political life of the court; characters who worked in the Topkapi Palace, and members of the military in both daily and parade attire. The first group contains paintings which depict various ministries in the palace and figures who were in the close entourage of the Sultan, for example the Foreign Minister (ill.35), the Harem Secretary (ill.20), the Maritime Minister (ills.39, 40), the Grand Vizir (ills.19 and 3) or the Judge (ill.10).

The second group contains a larger number of illustrations, all depicting characters encountered in the Topkapi Palace. One of the interesting aspects of this group is the variety of characters depicted. The range is not limited to very important members of the inner circle of the Sultan (see for example the Chief of the Doors (ill.23) or the Chief of the Ceremonial Costumes (ill.17), or the Head of the Prisons (ill.59)), but extends to every-day characters who could have been encountered at the court at that time (the water-distributor (ill.80), the coffee-waiter (ill.27), or the soldiers who distribute food during Ramadam (ill.76), an Egyptian (ill.123), the French Ambassador (ill.106), an Armenian (ill.115) or an English dragoman (ill.110)).

The third and largest group is the one depicting the military and it is this group which is probably the most interesting and it helps us advance a hypothesis as to the owner of this album. Soldiers from different regiments, grades and with different attire (every-day and parade) are depicted, providing the viewer with a comprehensive panorama of the Ottoman military at the time, and a very useful guide in identifying each character who could have been encountered at the time.

Different ranks are depicted: captain [(of the Armoury (ill.90); of the Garde (ill.37);  of the Cavalry (ill.97)]; sergeant [of the Janissary (ill.77), of the Navy (ills.41 and 42)], and lower grade soldiers in their official uniform [see, for example, soldiers from the infantry (ill.102), from the Adjem Oghlu barracks (ill.70), from the ninth regiment (ill.96) and from the artillery (ills.94 and 81)].

Parade costumes are also illustrated: several ushers bearing flag stands are present (ills.58, 69, 50, 88 and 89); a portrait of an usher with the Turkish flag (ill.104); a bandsman holding a flute (ill.101), and several soldiers on horses (ills.98, 99 and 100), including a mounted vizir (ill.3) and full-page illustration of a horse dressed for the parade (ill.7) shows that this was very much a guide to identify the main characters during a military parade.

The presence of such a large number of military attires as well as diplomatic and political members of the Sultan’s entourage sustain the hypothesis that this album was made with a potential foreign diplomatic buyer, who would have needed a handy guide to identify who was who at the court of the Sultan. Suraiya Faroqui notes that often these costume albums were commissioned to "identify the dignitaries of the palace with whom the envoys had to interact during the course of their missions" (Faroqui 2005, p.20) and it is this hypothesis that Gwendolyn Collaço advances for the costume album now in the Biblioteka Narodowa, Warsaw (inv. no.BOZ 165) (Collaço 2017, p.254). It is plausible that this impressive album was purchased by a member of the diplomatic entourage in Ottoman Turkey at the end of the nineteenth century which was later acquired by an Ambassador to Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century.