Reflecting on the Turk in late sixteenth-century Venetian portrait books

Bronwen Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


On 9 September 1570 the Venetian controlled city of Nicosia on the island of Cyprus fell to the Ottoman Empire, an event that would precipitate the formation of the Holy League and the Battle of Lepanto the following year.1 The renewed threat incited the prolific author Francesco Sansovino to press the Venetian Senate to move against the Ottoman Turks in a ‘just’ war whose successful outcome had been widely prophesied and enjoyed enthusiastic public support.2 During the same months, Sansovino addressed ‘Christian soldiers’ in his Irformatione, an illustrated tract in which the author's more characteristic admiration for Ottoman military virtù was superseded by a pointed religious rhetoric (figure 1).3 He illustrated the text with woodcuts of Ottoman military men to show his readers that the ‘Turks’ (the nomenclature for Muslims rather than a specific ethnic identity) were made ‘of bones and flesh like you’.4 On the one hand, the figures set forth physical commonality; while on the other hand, the Ottomans' costumes appeared ‘strange’ — a perception encouraged by the text — and provided Venetians with visual indicators of the ‘evil and bestial’ natures of their adversaries. If the woodcuts helped both to foment military fervor and popular aggression, the tension between sameness and difference expresses a contradiction felt by the Venetians in the face of the Turks who were too familiar to be made exotic.5
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-58
Number of pages21
JournalWord & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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