27 August Thursday

Mayor Imamoğlu: "Sultan Mehmed's portrait returns to Istanbul"

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) has brought the portrait made by Gentile Bellini in 1480 to Istanbul after purchasing it in late July.

The portrait of the Ottoman Empire's Sultan Mehmed II, also known as Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Istanbul in 1453, has been brought to Istanbul after it was bought by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) in an auction at the UK's National Gallery on June 25.

"The painting is back home. We are proud of this. Perhaps, we are witnessing a renaissance era art piece joining in a public collection for the first time," Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters at a ceremony at the municipality headquarter in the Sarachane neighborhood.

"It now should rest in a special place prepared for it," he said and added that it would be opened to public view after the Friday prayer tomorrow.

"This 540-year-old art piece of the Italian painter Gentile Bellini is placed at a special section where highest level measures, from security to air conditioning, have been taken," mayor Imamoglu noted.

The portrait, which is one of the three surviving portraits of Sultan Mehmed, was made by Italian artist Gentile Bellini in 1480. The second person in the portrait is not known.

The IMM bought the painting for 770,000 pounds. The oil painting on canvas is 33.4 cm wide and 45.4 centimeters long. The date November 25, 1480, is noted in Latin letters in the lower right corner of the painting.

"After the end of the Ottoman's war with the Republic of Venice in 1479, Sultan Mehmed II prepared a peace treaty at which he invited Bellini to Istanbul to carry out his works," Mayor Imamoglu explained the story of the painting.

"And, Bellini created this portrait of the sultan during his time he spent in the city," the mayor said, noting that it is one of the three original portraits of the sultan that survived to the present day.

Firstly, the painting will be kept in a special storage area on the ground floor of the IMM’s Saraçhane building, where the necessary conditions for the preservation of a Renaissance-era period have been provided. After the completion of the process, the painting will be shared with the public.

Due to the pandemic measures, the painting will be open for the public to see by the end of September or the beginning of October. After this, the portrait will have its permanent home in a museum which will have its own road map determined by experts.

About the portrait

The portrait, according to Christie's, is the product of the workshop of Gentile Bellini of Venice, circa 1429-1507. It is an oil on panel portrait and is 33.4cm in height and 45.4 cm in width. It is the last one to remain in private hands, says Christie's. The date Nov. 25, 1480, is written in Latin in the lower right corner of the painting of Mehmed the Conqueror, It is considered one of the most important works by Venetian painter Bellini, who stayed in İstanbul until 1481.

"This painting is one of the three portraits of Sultan Mehmed, who conquered İstanbul, which was made in his own time or near that period. They are owned by private collectors and have survived to the present day. This is a particularly unusual portrait. We see another figure next to the sultan. We still do not know who this person is. This person is said to be one of his three sons, but the little age gap between the two does not quite confirm this theory. Another view is that this person could be European because of his shaven face and white complexion," Sara Plumbly, head of the Islamic and Indian Art Department at Christie's said.

Mehmed the Conqueror, known for his interest in the Renaissance period, invited Italian painter Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) to İstanbul in 1479 and asked him to paint portraits of various people in the palace to be sure of Bellini's talent before allowing him to paint his portrait.

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