Slawomira Żerańska-Kominek, Musicians in the Ottoman Costume Album from the Collection of Stanisław II August Poniatowski, Poland’s Last King

Costumes were a focal point of the early European exploration of foreign cultures: determined in many pre-modern societies by the wearer’s ethnic and occupational identity, attire became an ideogrammatic system with which the West represented the Orient. Thus, illustrated albums featuring compilations of costumes evolved into metonyms for the mores of other cultures, as costume came to represent custom. Ottoman costume albums were a genre of book that emerged in the late sixteenth century, which sought to convey the whole gamut of Ottoman society in pictorial form. These manuscripts commonly included images of the sultan and his court, Turkish ladies and Venetian girls, Greek monks alongside Turkish imams, Russian merchants and African eunuchs, musicians and dancers among others. The drawings are relatively simple, but they succinctly abbreviated the kaleidoscope of cultures that co-inhabited Istanbul. The earliest albums were produced for European travelers and were made by Western artists, but from the beginning of the seventeenth-century Ottoman artists began to imitate the iconography of these European images. At the Print Room of the Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie is preserved an album that belonged to Stanisław II August Poniatowski (1764–1795), which includes 257 drawings representing the turquerie, made around 1779 by an unknown Greek artist. Among them are eight drawings showing musicians and dancers, an image of a Mavlevi music-and-dance ritual, a concert held at the British Embassy on 22 February 1779, and a scene from an ortaoyunu theater. These images are compared with the related albums at the Kungliga Biblioteket in Stockholm, HS Rål. 8:O and the British Library in London, add. MS 22367-22368.