Extract

Designs on The Empire

Süleyman the Magnificent rides through Constantinople’s ancient Hippodrome in one of a series of designs for an array of sumptuous tapestries. Sadly, they were never to see the light of day. The designs were the work of the Netherlandish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst and followed his remarkable journey to the heart of the enemy Ottoman Empire. Annick Born suggests Coecke had a hidden agenda, spying for his Habsburg masters.

The travels in the Ottoman Empire of Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502–1550), one of the most outstanding Netherlandish artists of the first half of the 16th century, constitute an extraordinary historical event and a milestone in his life. In 1533 he became the first draughtsman from the Habsburg Netherlands to visit Ottoman lands and to stay in Constantinople – moreover, at a time when the house of Osman was in conflict with the Habsburgs and allied with their sworn enemy, France. Painter, designer of tapestries and stained-glass windows, translator of the Books of Architecture by Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554), Pieter Coecke was a versatile, talented artist, innovating in each discipline he embraced.

He was trained in the workshop of the Brussels court painter Bernard van Orley, and by 1526 had married into a wealthy artistic Antwerp family. His first wife, Anna, was a daughter of the painter Jan Mertens van Dornicke. Her brother-in-law was the landscape painter Jan van Amstel. In 1527, Coecke became a free master of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke, probably on the death of Van Dornicke, allowing him to take over his father-in-law’s workshop. He was steeped in the artistic life of Antwerp while maintaining connections with Brussels artists, especially those with links to the tapestry trade.

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Buy the issue
Issue 56, October 2017 Brave Old World
£12.00 / $15.30 / 81.40 TL