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Extract

Behind palace doors

Enlightening Europe on Islam and the Ottomans
Carter Vaughn Findley

Brill


The most important visual record of life at the Topkapi is the magnum opus of an enigmatic dragoman, Mouradgea Ignatius d’Ohsson (1740–1807). Philip Mansel introduces a new book that rescues from obscurity both Mouradgea and the sumptuous illustrations he commissioned

Some people belong to one country. Ignace Mouradgea d’Ohsson belonged to three: the Ottoman Empire, where he was born in 1740; France, where he died in 1807; and Sweden, for which he worked for most of his life. His careers were as varied as his identities. Son of a wealthy Armenian merchant and his French wife (Claire Pagy, of a Levantine family from Smyrna, some of whom still live there), he became a merchant, interpreter, diplomat, writer and political reformer. He was at once Armenian, Catholic (some Armenians acknowledged the authority of the Pope), Ottoman, French and Swedish. From 1763 to 1784 he was dragoman for the Swedish Legation in Istanbul under the brothers Gustaf and Ulric Celsing, who succeeded each other as minister between 1750 and 1780. Their superb collection of Istanbul views by Jan van der Steen was recently sold to a Qatar museum. Sweden and the Ottoman Empire had been allies since the 1650s, as both powers dreaded Russian expansion. Dragomans, like diplomats, were bridges between countries, and Mouradgea helped establish diplomatic relations between Spain and the Ottoman Empire…

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