This procession of resplendently dressed Turkish officials on horseback exemplifies the fascination in 18th
century Europe for the exotic culture of the Islamic world, and the rococo fashion for Turquerie.
By the late 17th
century, the Turkish military threat to Europe had receded and, by the early 18th
century, diplomatic relationships between the Ottoman and European nations increased. In 1721, the visit to Paris of Mehmet Efendi, ambassador of Sultan Ahmet III to the court of Louis XV, was the occasion for impressive public festivities which were recorded by a number of artists, most notably Charles Parrocel. At around this same time, contemporary translations of The Thousand and One Nights
were adding to the public’s captivation with the Islamic world. Throughout Europe it soon became fashionable to dress all turqua
and, to have one’s portrait painted wearing exotic garments. In Italy, it was a foreigner, Field Marshal Johann Matthias von Schulenburg, who introduced the fashion for quadri turchi.
He had fought successfully against the Turks during the Austro-Hungarian campaign of 1687-8 and was idolized by the Venetians after his victory in the defense of Corfu in 1715. He eventually retired to live in Venice, and in 1741 commissioned Antonio Guardi to paint a series of forty-three scenes of daily life in Turkey. It is very possible that an artist in the circle of Fontebasso, who was also employed by Schulenburg and was acquainted with the Guardi family, knew these pictures by Antonio Guardi.
Although a few artists, such as the Renaissance painters Gentile Bellini and Pieter Coecke van Aelst, had travelled to Constantinople, Jean-Baptiste van Mour (1671-1737) was the first European artist to live there. His portraits of dignitaries, depictions of audiences with the Sultan, and other major events proved extremely popular and reached a larger audience through engravings made after his work. However, the majority of artists who painted Turquerie scenes, including Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Giambattista Tiepolo and Antoine Watteau, never went to Turkey. It is highly possible that this painting, even though rich in detail, does not depict an actual event but is a creation of the artist’s imagination.