museum review - Art of Travel: Bartholomäus Schachman (1559–1614)
Written by Oryx
The Art of Travel exhibition presented by the Orientalist Museum, Doha, tells the story of Polish mayor Bartholomäus Schachman’s travels throughout the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century.
Displayed at Al Riwaq Doha exhibition space located next to the Museum of Islamic Art until February 11, 2013, over 100 watercolour miniatures document the people, places, and customs Bartholomäus Schachman encountered on his journey through Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Curated by Dr Olga Nefedova, Collections Director at the Orientalist Museum, the exhibition of Orientalist art and history illustrates the importance of European–Ottoman relations throughout the 16th century.
This was a time of major political and religious changes in Europe, and of great expansion of the Ottoman Empire. As grand geographical discoveries were being made and religious and secular arts flourished, European–Ottoman cultural, political, and economic interests spanned time and borders.
The Ottoman Empire was a popular travel destination among nobles, wealthy merchants, travellers, and diplomats during that era, and there was increasing demand for pictorial as well as written records of life in the Ottoman world. They would commission artists to bring back to their countries illustrative accounts of all aspects of the Empire.
Bartholomäus Schachman commissioned one such record, dated 1590. Schachman (1559–1614) was the mayor of Danzig (Gdarisk) between 1605 and 1614 and, thanks to his many journeys throughout Europe and the Middle East, was dubbed the ‘Ulysses of Gdarisk’. Wealthy and educated, he was not just a politician but also a collector "of ancient sculptures and weaponry, bibliophile, patron of the artists, and friend to the scholars. His rule is considered one of the finest periods in the city’s history.
The tale of his two-year adventures through the Ottoman Empire became one of the greatest travelogues of the 16th century. The travel album contains a large number of full-page watercolour drawings, depicting the costumes and people of the Empire he saw during his travels (1588–89). These scenes of everyday life, festivals, and ceremonies presented the fully illustrated drama of 16th-century life in the Ottoman Empire. “They are like the photographs from that time; this is what makes them so important,” explains Dr Nefedova.
The watercolour drawings are on display along with related artworks, books, documents, and other historical objects from the Orientalist Museum’s own collection and other institutions from Poland. “When we found out that Schachman was a mayor of Gdaƒsk, we started our research there,” says Dr Nefedova. “We were very warmly received by the National Museum, and by the Gdaƒsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences, who guided us through the story of Schachman. There is only one existing portrait of him – a pencil drawing, which they generously loaned to us, and they told us what they know about him, though not a lot is known.”
Other significant loans from Schachman’s native city include his family ancestor records, books from his personal library collection, and his Album Amicorum from his university years.
“We’ve been working on this project for two years and that’s the work of so many people,” explains Dr Nefedova. “We have studied and researched, conserved and restored the paintings, and translated every single inscription, which are all in old German language, to contemporary German, English, and Arabic.”
A similar joint exhibition by Qatar Orientalist Museum and the National Museums of Danzig was in Gdarisk in July–October, 2012. “We thought it was important to take the exhibition to Schachman’s native city Gdaƒsk then to Doha, which has the only institution in the world dedicated solely to Orientalist art,” saysDr Nefedova. “The two exhibitions have a different focus; our exhibition in Doha concentrates more on Schachman himself, but also on the 16th century in general, to give the exhibition context,” she adds.
These documents and artworks provide the visitor with a fascinating insight into 16th-century life in the Ottoman Empire, through the eyes of the city mayor Bartholomäus Schachman.
The only institution in the world dedicated solely to Orientalist art, the museum’s permanent collection includes paintings, watercolours, sculptures, drawings, and prints tracing Orientalism back to the early 16th century. Although the museum is not currently in full operation – and is not open to the public – significant artworks are loaned to international museums on a regular basis. Works are also displayed in exhibitions organised by the Orientalist Museum in Doha and internationally.