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COECK VAN AELST, Pieter. The Turks in MDXXXIII. A series of drawings made in that year at Constantinople by Peter Coeck of Aelst, and published from woodblocks..., London/Edinburgh, Privately printed for W.S.M., MDCCCLXXIII [=1873].

Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) was a Flemish painter, sculptor, scenographer, and tapestry designer. Coelst studied in Brussels (1517-1521), and travelled in Italy (1521 and 1525). He was in charge of a large tapestry workshop in Antwerp, founded by his father, Pieter van Aelst the Elder, and considered as the best and most famed in Europe. In 1533 Coecke made a journey to Istanbul. The possible aim of his journey could have been to sell tapestries to the Sultan, to open a subsidiary shop at the Ottoman capital or to learn the secrets of the crafts of the East. Coeck was probably a member of the suite of C. van Schepper, who was ambassador of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent.

The diplomatic mission left Vienna in April 1533. They sailed from Rijeka and, after crossing Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria, they reached Istanbul in May 1533. Coecke stayed in Istanbul until July of that same year. After his return, in 1534, he was named official painter to Charles V. In 1539 he translated S. Serlios' treatise on architecture and perspective from Latin to Flemish, and later on Vitruvius' work on architecture. Coecke was also in charge of the decoration of several public buildings, and became famous for his wood engravings. Those engravings are remarkable for their rich detail and their particular strain of humour. His tapestry workshop was very productive, and Coecke himself was the designer of several masterpieces of the art of tapestry. On the other hand, few of his paintings survive, as many were destroyed during the iconoclastic riots of the 16th century (Beeldenstorm). His work forms part of the Romanic school of Antwerp, in which Flemish art shows the marked influence of Raphael.

After Coecke's death, his widow published this series of seven engravings, pasted on a five-meter long canvas, and separated by Caryatid figures. These extremely rare engravings are groundbreaking and unique, both for their subjects and for their technique. They depict moments of the mission's journey to Istanbul, including the encampment at modern-day Serbia, the crossing of Hebrus river, other stops of the caravan, everyday activities of the locals, the celebration of the full moon at the outskirts of Plovdiv (Philippopolis), a funeral near Edirne (Adrianople), feasts at the Golden Horn, and the procession which escorted the Sultan as he rode from the Palace to the Byzantine Hippodrome. Coecke is discreetly depicted in each one of his engravings.

Barring the drawings and paintings of Gentile Bellini, the Italian painter who visited at Mehmed's court in 1480, there are no depictions of Ottoman rulers before Coecke's drawings. Suleiman I became an admirer of Coeckes' work, consented that he paint his portrait and lavished him with expensive gifts.

Apart from the present annotated edition of Coecke's engravings, an original edition of the work (1533) is also kept at the Gennadius Library.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

Subjects (21)