VAN MOUR, Jean Baptiste
Jean Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) was a French-Flemish painter, born in Valenciennes. His father was a carpenter. Van Mour was studying fine art in the workshop of painter Jacques-Albert Gérin when his work attracted the attention of Marquess Charles de Ferriol, an aristocrat and politician. In 1699, while Ferriol was ambassador of France in Constantinople during the Tulip Era, that is, the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, he invited Van Mour to the Ottoman capital and commissioned him to paint one hundred portrait types of peoples in the Ottoman Empire. In 1711, Ferriol returned to France, while Van Mour continued to work for other diplomats.
This edition, with one hundred engravings depicting costumes and ethnicities from the East, became widely popular in Western Europe and was translated into five languages. Its success was only overshadowed towards the end of the eighteenth century, by the publication of Choiseul-Gouffier’s monumental work. In 1725, Van Mour was named Official Painter to the King of France in the East, and in 1727 the Flemish ambassador Cornelis Calkoen asked Van Mour to paint his audience with Ahmed III. With permission to accompany the ambassador, and being already familiarized with Ottoman protocol, Van Mour made a series of paintings representing the rare and grandiose audiences that took place in the sultan’s palace. Many of these works are today in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Van Mour died in Constantinople and is probably buried in the Catholic cemetery at Galata.
The idea of depicting portrait types is first encountered in Nicolas de Nicolay’s travel chronicle in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, traveller Pietro de la Valle, as he himself notes, had the same project in mind but was not able to realize it. With Van Mour’s works, Ferriol achieved the most successful edition of his era. Images are accompanied by explanatory texts with details on everyday life, while a Dervish tune is published as well. The copperplate engravings of this edition, which mainly depict officials, members of various ethnic groups, merchants, itinerant traders, scenes from the harem, a Turkish wedding and a funeral, also circulated as coloured plates. They were copied and illustrated many later travel chronicles. Last but not least, of special interest are the scenes representing women in public as well as in private spaces.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou