Olga's Gallery

Olga's Gallery

July 16, 2001
        Dear Friends of Art,

        During this fortnight's period we have added the sections of five Italian masters of the 14th-15th centuries.
The first one is Gentile da Fabriano (1370/80 Fabriano –1437 Rome), a leading Italian master of the International Gothic style and a teacher of numerous artists, including  Jacopo Bellini (1400-70/71), the father of Venetian painting and the founder of a dynasty of Venetian artists.
       The sections of Jacopo's two great sons, Gentile Bellini (1429-1507), called after Gentile da Fabriano, and Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) and his son-in-law Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) are also added. "Jacopo Bellini certainly wanted to involve Andrea Mantegna in his studio – and it was maybe for this reason that he gave his daughter Nicolosia as Mantegna’s wife – but Andrea preferred the reserved culture of the court to the open culture of the city. If he had not, we would have had an even more exceptional concentration of talent in Bellini’s studio, and the next stage in Venetian painting would have had, if not a second father, then at least a brother-in-law", Augusto Gentili.

Sultan Mehmet II

      In 1479, the Republic of Venice sent Gentile Bellini to Constantinople to paint the portrait of Sultan Mehmet II.

         Mehmet II was born in 1433, the third of Murad’s sons. He had two elder half-brothers Ahmet and Ali; both children of well-born mothers, whereas Mehmet’s own mother was a slave-girl in the harem. That was the reason why he received very little attention from his father as a child.
        Ahmet died, in 1439, only twenty years old. Then, in 1444, Ali was found strangled in his bed, in circumstances still mysterious. Mehmet, now heir to the throne, was summoned urgently to his father. Hitherto his education had been largely neglected; suddenly he found himself in the care of the greatest scholars that could be found and with them, over the next few years, laid the foundations of the learning and culture for which he was soon to be famous. At the time of his accession he is said to have been fluent not only in his native Turkish but in Arabic, Greek, Latin, Persian and Hebrew.
        Twice, in the last six years of his life, Sultan Murad abdicated the throne in favor of his son; twice his Grand Vizier Halil Pasha had prevailed upon him to resume the reins of government. Young Mehmet, he reported, was arrogant and self-willed, ever bent on going his own way and apparently determined to ignore the Vizier’s advice. After Murad’s second reluctant return to power he gave up all thoughts of retirement and settled down once again in Adrianople, banishing his unsatisfactory son to Magnesia in Anatolia; and it was there that news was brought to Mehmet that his father had died, on 13 February 1451, of an apoplectic seizure.
         It took the new Sultan just five days to travel from Magnesia to Adrianople, where he held a formal reception at which he confirmed his father’s ministers in their places or, in certain cases, appointed them elsewhere. In the course of these ceremonies Murad’s widow arrived to congratulate him on his succession. Mehmet received her warmly and engaged her for some time in conversation; when she returned to the harem she found her infant son had been murdered in his bath. The young sultan, it seemed, was not one to take chances.
        But he was only 19, and in the Western world there was a general feeling that he was still too young and immature to constitute a serious threat as his father had done – a delusion that Mehmet did everything he could to encourage, while preparing to crush Byzantium. In January 1453 Mehmet II summoned his ministers to his presence in Adrianople to announce them his wish to conquer Byzantium.
        “On 5 April Mehmet pitched his tent before the walls of Constantinople, where the bulk of his huge host had already arrived three days before. Determined to lose no time, he at once sent under a flag of truce the message to the Emperor that was required by Islamic law, undertaking that all his subjects would be spared, with their families and property, if they made immediate and voluntary surrender. If on the other hand they refused, they would be given no quarter.” As expected, he received no reply. Early in the morning of Friday, 6 April his cannon opened fire.
        The siege went on till the end of May and finished with capture of Constantinople. “Sultan Mehmet had promised his men the three days of looting to which by Islamic tradition they were entitled; but after an orgy of violence on such a scale, there were no protests when he brought it to a close on the same day as it had begun. There was by then little left to plunder, and his soldiers had more than enough to do sharing out the loot and enjoying their captives.
        He himself waited until the worst excesses were over before entering the city. Then, in the late afternoon, accompanied by his chief ministers, his imams and his bodyguard of Janissaries, he rode slowly down the principal thoroughfare, the Mes, to St. Sophia. Dismounting outside the central doors, he stooped to pick up a handful of earth which, in a gesture of humility, he sprinkled over his turban; then he entered the Great Church. He had decided that the church of the Holy Wisdom should be converted into the chief mosque of the city.
        Leaving the Great Church, he crossed the square to the old, ruined Palace on the Emperors, founded by Constantine the Great eleven and a half centuries before; and as he wandered through its ancient halls, his slippers brushing the dust from the pebbled floor-mosaics – some of which have survived to this day – he is said to have murmured the lines of a Persian poet:

The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars;
The owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.
He had achieved his ambition. Constantinople was his. He was just twenty-one years old.”

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Built by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus.
Among the surviving monuments of Justian's reign in Constantinople, the most important is Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), the architectural masterpiece of the era and one of the great creative triumphs of any age. Built between 532 and 537, it achieved such fame that the names of the architects, too, were remembered; Arthemius of Thalles and Isidorus of Miletis. After the Turkish conquest in 1453, it became a mosque (the four minarets were added then) and the mosaic decoration was largely hidden under whitewash. Some of the mosaics were uncovered in the 20th century, after the building was turned into a museum.

Interior, Hagia Sophia.

Virgin and Child Enthroned. c. 843-67. Mosaic. Hagia Sophia, Constantinople.

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