Theme guide

The exhibition ”A View of a Foreign Culture. Melchior Lorck in Turkey, 1555-1559” was exhibited in five rooms. Here are the overall themes presented.

Melchior Lorck, Suleiman's Mosque, 1570

Melchior Lorck, Suleiman's Mosque, 1570

A view of a foreign culture

In 1555, the Danish artist Melchior Lorck travelled from Vienna to Constantinople, the Istanbul of today. This was during the reign of Sultan Suleiman II. He was sultan of the enormous Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and feared in the West.

Lorck was member of a diplomatic mission sent by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna to negotiate peace with the sultan. Lorck was entrusted with documenting in pictorial form the foreign culture. Until that time, the West had very little knowledge of Turkey, and that was based to a high degree on prejudices.

For the most part, Lorck’s portrayal of Turkish culture seems to be a matter-of-fact record. But one of the few places where Lorck’s Christian background is clearly apparent is in his portrayal of some of the Turkish mosques.hole without derogatory pictorial statements.

On the left of the large picture of the Suleiman Mosque above, the radiant ‘Light of Christ’ of the West can be seen, driving away the dark clouds of the East and the crescent moon of Islam on the right. In the centre of the picture, the clouds divide, however, making room for the mighty mosque. In spite of Lorck’s religious prejudice, it is clear that the mosque with its striking geometrical form interested him very much as architecture.

Title Page, 1575/1619

Title Page, 1575/1619

The Turkish Publication

Lorck’s Turkish Publication consists of 128 woodcuts portraying Turkish society: everyday life, costumes, craftsmen, means of transportation, buildings, and not least the Turkish army.

How did Lorck go about his work? Did he make sketches while he was out and about in Turkey, or did he translate his impressions into pictures later on? Whatever the case, the woodcuts were not made until after his return to Vienna in 1559.

The Turkish Publication did not appear as a book until 1626, that is, many years after his death.

To the right is the Title page of the planned edition of The Turkish Publication.

Read more about the title page

Melchior Lorck, A smith seen from behind in a camp, 1581

Melchior Lorck, A smith seen from behind in a camp, 1581

Everyday Life

The pictures of the civilian society show us various crafts, trades, means of transportation, tools, types of people, etc.

At the same time, they reveal Lorck’s talent for getting a picture to work visually. He stretches out his composition to the utmost within the limits of the frame, and lets his figures twist and turn elegantly without any sign of effort. By using simple measures he infuses the motif with spatiality. But at the same time he ties it to the surface, thereby maintaining the impressive calligraphy of the lines.

In the picture to the right we can see that this is a representation of a smith because of his tools. But is it a particular smith in a particular camp?

It is not always easy for us today to see exactly what the motifs represent. The 1626 edition of The Turkish Publication had no explanatory text to give us a clue. The view is, however, that Lorck had originally written texts for his pictures, but these have been lost in the course of time.

Melchior Lorck, Mounted, finely equipped soldier, 1576

Melchior Lorck, Mounted, finely equipped soldier, 1576

The Sultan’s Army

The army must have been the focus of Lorck’s special interest – and no doubt particularly that of his employer, the emperor. But how was Lorck able to gain admission to study these “sensitive” motifs?

Did he get permission to visit military camps during periods when there were more peaceful relations between the two great powers? Or maybe the sultan could also see an advantage in letting the enemy become aware of how great and well-equipped his army was?

But not even here, at the heart of the enemy’s power, do we see any forms of “terrible, brutal, infidel (and so on) Turks.” We see Lorck’s factual recording of equipment and methods.

Here one can sense Lorck’s fascination with the fantastic costumes of the Turkish soldiers. His pictorial abilities are given free rein in this portrayal of a horse and rider, where the horse is being ‘devoured’ by a lion’s skin, and the rider is equipped with enormous eagle’s wings. It is all arranged in a perfectly balanced composition.

Melchior Lorck, Ein Stadtviertel, 1570

© Melchior Lorck, Ein Stadtviertel, 1570


Documentation or Fantasy
Most of Lorck’s pictures of buildings are mosques. The mosque was an unknown type of building to Lorck. How does one depict a mosque, if one does not have a tradition to draw upon? What elements is it essential to emphasise, and what are unimportant?

Few of Lorck’s mosques can be identified from the buildings we know today. Have Lorck’s mosques just disappeared in the course of time, or were they figments of his imagination?

To the homepage of the exhibition

arrow Comments (0)
No comments
Add comment

Updated: 26.apr.2018
Webmaster: Webmaster
SMK Logo