fig. 1
Jožef Tominc

The Biedermeier style, which arose in central and northern Europe (Austro-Hungary, Germany and Denmark) between the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the pan-European revolutions of 1848, has long been associated with elegantly simple and functional furniture design. With its emphasis on the intrinsic beauty of natural materials such as unpainted wood, and its unaffected domesticity, Biedermeier style was consciously conceived in moral opposition to the artifice of French Empire fashion. In portrait painting that simplicity is combined with an unflinching fidelity to physical features and unambiguous, firmly modelled outlines. For lesser painters such zest for ‘plain’ honesty can yield portraits of a naive and sometimes ludicrous solidity. But in the case of the most sophisticated artists of the era, such as the Austrian-born Ferdinand Georg Waldműller (1793–1865), Friedrich von Amerling (1803–1887) and Slovenian-born Jožef Tominc (1790–1866), each an acute observer of the psychological as well as the material aspects of the world he inhabited with his sitter, that same ideal of truth to nature resulted in portraits of such compelling character and physical presence that their prestige was undinted by the advent of photography in 1839.

Initially favoured as a private style by the aristocracy, Biedermeier’s aesthetic qualities were soon embraced by an expanding and increasingly wealthy middle class across northern and central Europe.1 See Hans Ottomeyer et al. (eds), Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity (exh. cat.), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2006. Despite its broad reach and importance for European continental culture during the nineteenth century, Biedermeier style barely registers in public art collections in Australia.2 The formal influence of Biedermeier style was however perpetuated by German-speaking furniture-makers in South Australia. See Christopher Menz, Colonial Biedermeier and German Art in South Australia During the 19th Century, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 1992. It was with pleasure that the National Gallery of Victoria was able to acquire an outstanding Biedermeier portrait (fig. 1), thanks to funds generously donated by Luisa, Simona and Luca Valmorbida. Painted by leading Austro-Hungarian painter Jožef Tominc, this ravishing half-length painting of a man in Ottoman dress marks the first Biedermeier portrait to enter an Australian public collection.

For a style associated with Vienna, Berlin and Copenhagen, the painting originates in an unexpected quarter; the port city of Trieste, at around 1830. Located in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, on the border now dividing Northern Italy and Slovenia, in 1830 Trieste and its Adriatic surroundings were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, dominated by Vienna 350 kilometres inland. Barely known in the English-speaking art world, Jožef Tominc (or Giuseppe Tominz) was, and continues even today to be, the most revered portrait painter of the region.

Jožef Tominc

Born in the small town of Gradiscutta, the capital of Gorizia province, Jožef Tominc was the son of an ironmonger and grew up in an Italian-speaking household of eleven children. Educated by the Piarist fathers, the teenage Tominc received art lessons from local masters until 1809 when he obtained the support of Archduchess Maria Anna, sister of the Austrian Emperor, to travel to Rome and complete his training. Studying with the painter Domenico Conti Bazzani, Tominc attended life classes at the Accademia di San Luca, obtaining a silver medal for drawing in 1814. He remained in Rome until 1817, where he cannot have failed to be aware of the classical French Romantic painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who, like Tominc, was to find portrait painting a far more viable proposition than his avocation, history painting.

Discouraged perhaps by the dearth of patronage in the post-Napoleonic climate of Rome, from which Ingres was suffering, Tominc moved to Vienna in 1819 in search of work with the victorious Austrian power. It was in Vienna above all, as Anne Tzeutschler Lurie has noted, that portraiture was flourishing: it was this ‘city that the famous Vienna Congress in 1814–15 had turned into the political, cultural, and social center of Europe and the “rendez-vous” of Europe’s crowned heads and most beautiful women’.3 Anne Tzeutschler Lurie, ‘Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller in the Cleveland Museum of Art: Portrait of Crescentia, Countess Zichy (later Countess Széchenyi) with a parrot and a camellia in a mountainous landscape’, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 81, no. 1 (Jan., 1994), p. 4. In Vienna, Tominc gained commissions to paint members of the Hapsburg court and other dignitaries, but the same commercial opportunities that attracted him had also lured his contemporary, Viennese-born Ferdinand Waldmüller, back from Brno in 1818. This factor – and the presence of an active academy producing a steady stream of local and, more importantly, German-speaking portrait painters – may have induced Tominc to seek once again a less professionally competitive sphere; after two years he returned to the region of his birth, where he found plentiful commissions along the Austrian Littoral – Gorizia, Ljubljana and Trieste. Tominc’s ‘sensitivity’ to nuances of expression, his ability to offset severe simplicity with touches of luxury, and his deft encodement of a sitter’s social status and interests through his inclusion of significant accessories quickly put him in the lead among society portraitists in northern Italy, and he soon gathered a surprisingly diverse clientele.

In this context Tominc’s decision around 1830 to settle in Trieste is significant. This Adriatic town served as Austria-Hungary’s key seaport and the capital of the Littoral; coastal playground to the empire’s monied Slovenes, Croats, Germans, Friulians, and Italian holiday-makers. Substantial though the economic activity spawned by this well-heeled population undoubtedly was, the real source of Trieste’s vibrant prosperity was the wealth and business generated by the tax-free port and stock exchange at the city’s heart. Together this magical combination of factors ensured Tominc a flourishing career for twenty-five years. With his spreading reputation as the pre-eminent society portraitist north of Venice, and his rapid technique, Tominc was also well-placed to cater to the many transient visitors passing through. Reputed to have painted twenty-five portraits of English naval officers in as many days during 1836, Tominc remained prolific until his sight finally failed him around 1855, aged sixty-four.

Jealously collected in both Slovenia and Northern Italy, the bulk of Tominc’s paintings are today held in the Museo Revoltella, Trieste, the Musei Provinciali, Gorizia, and the National Gallery of Slovenia. An extensive and growing literature is dedicated to Tominc in Italian, Slovenian and German, dating from the year of his first exhibition in 1822, but virtually nothing has been published in English. Amounting at the time of writing to over one hundred and twenty articles, monographs and exhibition catalogues, these publications are collectively referred to by scholars as ‘Tominziana’: three major exhibitions have recently been devoted exclusively or largely to his work.4 Fabrizio Magani et al., Ottocento di frontiera: Gorizia 1780–1850; Arte e cultura, Electa, Milan, 1995; Barbara Jaki et al., Jozef Tominc. Fiziognomja slika (exh. cat.), Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, 2002; Maria Masau Dan et al., Giuseppe Tominz: l’arte delle virtù borghesi (exh. cat.), Museo Revoltella Trieste, Gorizia & Trieste, Trieste, 2002. The recent emergence of this portrait, a masterpiece of Tominc’s illustrious career, thus constitutes a major rediscovery.5 The portrait first surfaced auction in the 1980s at the Dorotheum, Vienna, where it was purchased for a private collector, Turin. It then passed to Piermarco Savio Antiques, Milan, in 2006 followed by Diego Gomiero Antiques, Milan, in the same year and lastly to Robilant & Voena, London, in 2007, from whom it was purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. The portrait was briefly exhibited as Ritratto di turco in L. Beatrice (ed.), Anatomia dell’Irrequietezza (exh. cat.), Palazzo della Penna, Perugia, 2007, (unpaginated).

Almost life-size in scale, the subject is a dark-haired and turbaned man of around forty in Ottoman attire, with thick eyebrows and curled moustache. He wears the luxuriously layered garb of a wealthy man, perhaps a high-ranking merchant or member of the Ottoman ruling elite. A finely tailored white buttoned shirt can be seen at the throat, concealed by a crossed vest or shawl in plain-dyed indigo, secured at the waist by a patterned sash and all of this under a sober black outer robe. A rope-like length of golden chain, knotted and swagged, and an intaglio ring are discreet but unmistakable markers of wealth. Around his head a fringed Kashmir shawl is wound into a floppy turban, patterned with bands of gorgeously coloured floral and vegetal motifs. His elegantly draped pyramidal form is crisply outlined against a grey ground, and supported by the curved arm of a Biedermeier sofa.

Decoding appearance

Outwardly grave, but with an expression of contained amusement, he looks at the viewer. In his hand is an unfolded document comprising several leaves of onion-skin thinness. The front of the letter is legibly addressed in Italian to a ‘Sig. Nicola Hal … [the full name is obscured by fingers] Trieste’, and above these words is an inscription, including the artist’s name also legible in Arabic. It was initially translated as ‘To Sayyid (?) Sir … Most Choice Jewel Nicola Hal, the Respected, in Trieste’, about which more will be said later.6 Inventory essay by Prof. Fernando Mazzocca, commissioned by Robilant & Voena, dated Milan, 29 May 2006. The author’s sly humour implicit in such a feat of trompe l’oeil realism recalls the visual trickery of that French Empire favourite, the genre painter Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845), in whose paintings artist, subject and viewer all partake in the hilarity of deception. The sensibility of Tominc’s portrait seems entirely – indeed fashionably – modern.

What then might be inferred about the identity of the man in Tominc’s portrait, based on the picture’s internal evidence? Other details of this portrait, the jewellery, turban and glowing colours, crystalline outlines and ‘licked’ academic surface unavoidably evoke the work of another French contemporary, the classical and Orientalising painter Ingres, in particular his harem beauty, the Odalisque, of 1814. But whereas Ingres cast the female objects of his desire into turbaned, marmoreal and unknowable sphinxes of the East, Tominc’s sitter, one can presume, actually wished himself to be painted ‘à la mode turque’.

Many Europeans, male and female, from the late seventeenth century indulged in the wearing of Oriental garments when in private. Fuelled by satirical fiction, plays and exotic travel writings,7 For example, Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (1721), Jean Racine’s Bazajet (1672) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters (1762). and the paintings of well-travelled artists such as Jean-Etienne-Liotard,8 Jean-Etienne Liotard (Geneva, 1702–1799) lived in Constantinople between 1738 and1742. On his return he continued to wear and draw himself in Turkish dress. He also maintained a wardrobe of Turkish costumes in his studios in which to dress his European sitters. decorations and fashions for the private realm went Oriental. When, in 1813, Lord Byron, the quintessential Romantic figure of an artist, chose to have himself painted by Thomas Phillips as a silk-turbaned Albanian soldier, he was merely at the end of a century of East-o-philia. Even so, the ongoing popularity of such portraits, evident throughout the Regency period, is a clear indication of just how thoroughly the aesthetic of Oriental costume had become assimilated into the self-image of the sophisticated European.

For this reason, it has been suggested that Tominc’s portrait of a man in Ott-oman dress belongs to that extensive and long-lived genre of Europeans presenting in Eastern costume. Indeed, such a notion is given further weight by the fact that the noble and wealthy Habsburg classes, for whom Tominc painted, forced to withdraw from the political realm in the increasingly conservative, post–revolutionary climate of Chancellor Metternich (with whose anti-liberal policies between 1809 and 1848 the Biedermeier period is often identified), turned to the image of the otiose Easterner in crafting their identities as leisured citizens. This escapist function of the Oriental fantasy is illustrated in a c.1837 watercolor by Stephanie von Fahnenberg of her brother Alexander von Fahnenberg, the Bavarian Ambassador to Berlin, which shows him in his private mode, retired to his den to smoke and read. Ensconced in a room full of Biedermeier furniture, Fahnenberg is portrayed wearing full Ottoman dress, slippers and turban with pipe in hand (fig. 2).

Trieste and the Ottoman world

Persuasive as such evidence may seem, it is suggested here that Tominc’s portrait ought not to be automatically seen as a form of private Orientalist role-play. Trieste, the coastal city named in the address on the outside of the letter, and the milieu in which Tominc had established himself by 1830, was not only an ‘Austrian Riviera’, but also the one location of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where Ottoman subjects were an integral part of the population. The chief seaport of the Habsburg monarchs from 1382 to 1918, Trieste was key to the prosperity of the empire’s landlocked capital, Vienna. In competition with its mercantile neighbour Venice, in 1719 the Habsburgs proclaimed Trieste a free port, exempt from trade tariffs and religious restrictions. As a result Trieste by the nineteenth century was an affluent and multicultural city, boasting many non-Catholic communities including Muslims and non-Muslims from the Ottoman world: Greeks, Syrians, Turks, Slavs, Armenians and Jews.9 See Lois C. Dubin, The Jews of Trieste in the Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1999, ch. 1. Ironically, Trieste as a result was to evolve as an unusually liberal environment in striking contrast to the arch-Catholic and conservative political environment of Biedermeier Vienna and her closer territories.

In its geographical position between central Europe and the north, Italy and the Adriatic to the south, and the Balkans and the Levant to the east, Trieste was ideally located to serve as an entrepôt for the passage of commodities from all corners of the globe. As mentioned above, its engine-house was the port itself, and it is a measure of the ubiquity of ethnic minorities in maritime commerce, that no artistic record of the seafront is complete without men in fur hats, turbans, slippers, robes, embroidered vests and baggy pants (şalvar), labouring, negotiating or watching on with an air of command (fig. 3).10 See, for example, Trieste harbour, 1802, by Louis Cassas (French 1756–1787), watercolour, dimensions unknown, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The second most crucial organ of the city’s economy was the stock exchange, or Palazzo Tergesteo, constructed in 1840 as a suite of Neoclassical arcades filled with shops (fig. 4). Contemporary images portray this new public space peopled with many figures in ‘Eastern’ costume alongside men in silk top hats and slim-fitting frock coats.11 See, for example, the drawing of the Tergesteo stock exchange by Casoretto, c.1844. On a more informal register, cafes and social areas also appear in images of Trieste. Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman subjects in different forms of non-European dress are shown conversing, united through commerce, by the curious language ‘Sabir’ (a pidgin of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Turkish and Arabic used by business and diplomatic communities) and by a shared love of coffee (fig. 5).12 Also known as the ‘Lingua Franca of the Levant’. My thanks to Prof. Madeline C. Zilfi for her observations on typical communications of mobile and trading populations along the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts.

Several details in Tominc’s portrait suggest that his sitter was not Muslim. Older Ottoman sumptuary laws decreed black robes for non-Muslims, while white was the more usual colour for turbans worn by Muslims. Nor does the name ‘Nicola’ conform to the lexicon of acceptable Muslim names, which were traditionally derived from the ninety-nine names of Allah. It is Saint Nicola, patron saint of seafarers and merchants, though, who is the namesake of the Greek Orthodox church in Trieste (founded in 1792 and still standing), and of many Orthodox Slavs living under Ottoman rule. This name might then suggest that the subject of the portrait was an Arabic-speaking Christian.

Statistically most of the Ottoman subjects who settled in Trieste were Jews or Greeks, yet the established presence of a Muslim community is attested by the creation in 1848 of a Muslim cemetery in the non-Catholic area beside the Catholic cemetery of Sant’ Anna. According to historian Gad G. Gilbar, Muslim traders generally avoided settling in Christian Europe, with the exception of cities that actively protected them. Trieste is one of the four cities in which busy Muslim colonies are recorded in the eighteenth century, a reflection of the religious toleration extended to them.13 The others were Ancona, Venice and Split. See Gad G. Gilbar, ‘Muslim tujjār of the Middle East and their commercial networks in the long nineteenth century’, Studia Islamica, no. 100/101, 2005, p. 193.

Considerations of this kind appear to support the recent theory of nineteenth–century Italian art historian Fernando Mazzocca, that the portrait in question represents

a merchant or businessman of Turkish origin active in that city of trade and commerce. This is confirmed in particular by his Turkish dress and by the letter he has just opened in his hand.14 Catalogue/webpage essay by Dr Fernando Mazzocca commissioned by the vendor Robilant & Voena, 29 May 2006.

While Mazzocca does not speculate on the faith of the sitter, the confident assertion that the figure is ‘Turkish’ is not helpful, as that term has been used so broadly as to have become virtually meaningless without precise evidence to support it, and could be used to denote any of the identities already mentioned above.15 On the use of the term ‘Turk’ in the West, see Jean-Claude Hocquet, ‘Venice and the Turks’, in Stefano Carboni et al., Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797 (exh. cat.), Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p. 50. More sympathetic is his notion that the dignified subject of the painting is a businessman, based on his possession of a letter. This seems a reasonable assumption given that many ‘lettered’ Eastern travellers in Europe were either businessmen or court officials and often both.16 I wish to thank Dr Charlotte Jirousek for this observation. Western artists have often portrayed Ottoman and Persian visitors to Europe holding a letter, reflecting the double role that merchants often served as envoys for their governments (fig. 6).17 Other famous examples of ‘ambassador portraits’ include the portraits of Mirza Abu’l Hassan Khan, Persian ambassador, sent in 1809 to King George III by Fath Ali, shah of Persia, who was painted in 1809 and 1810 by Sir William Beechey and Sir Thomas Lawrence respectively. Both portraits show the sitter with a document in his hand. Both the uprightness of the sitter’s pose and the formal sentiments of the translated Arabic inscription (Sir … Most Choice Jewel Nicola Hal, the Respected, in Trieste) seem consistent with the honorific conventions of mercantile or diplomatic portraiture.

A new translation

In conflict with this reading, however, is a new line of interpretation opened up by a more recent translation of the Arabic inscription by University of Melbourne Arabic scholars Ian Coller and Yousef Alreemawi (fig. 7).

Noting the unusual fluency of the calligraphy, Coller and Alreemawi transcribe the Arabic as ‘Bi-mahrikim Ila hadratu nikula al-habib al-jawharatu, li khali al-muhtarram bi-trieste’, which they further translate as: ‘For your dowry: To the honoured Nicola al-Ha[bib] the jewel[s], for my respected uncle in Trieste’.18 I would especially like to thank Dr Ian Coller and Yousef Alreemawi of the University of Melbourne for their transcription, translation and suggestions about the possible meanings of this inscription. Clearly, in this version the message conveys a familial tone.19 An alternative reading has been suggested for the word ‘mahr’, written as a trilateral m-h-r. In correspondence Prof. Madeline C. Zilfi has pointed out that this word without any vowelation in the original Arabic can be either ‘dowry’ or ‘signet ring’ (mühür). Coller points out, however, that ‘Khaly’, which means ‘my maternal uncle’, may also be used to designate other relatives or friends, as a respectful title. Even so, the intimacy implied in the wording of the letter would discourage any further consideration of the sitter (and the image as an entity) within an official or state context as a fruitful path for interpretation.

More intriguing still is the reference to a dowry or mahr, which in Islamic law denotes a gift from the husband to the wife made at the time of the marriage contract. In this transaction the mahr becomes the inalienable property of the wife, kept to secure her independence in the event of divorce. It was, and continues to be, obligatory to establish its value before the validation of marriage. This requirement may explain the reference to a jewel, or jewels, in the inscription. In certain circumstances under Islamic law, a payment could be deferred (mahr mu’ajjal) or made in instalments over a fixed period of time, to either the woman directly or to her guardian (wali), provided the arrangement was witnessed. This allusion to mahr certainly seems to imply that, in spite of the non-Muslim outfit of the sitter in the painting, the cultural convention being documented is a thoroughly Muslim one. Is it possible that the painting was intended to record part or full payment of a dowry? In this case the portrait would indeed be serving a formal and highly serious function, but of a private, familial nature involving the linking of two individuals and their families. In this kind of scenario, perhaps the artist himself stood as witness.

The art of alliance: Western portraits versus calligraphic contracts

Unfamiliar though such a procedure may seem today, the commissioning of portraits to document marriages, changes of professional status or the making of a vow is a tradition that dates back to the early Renaissance.20 The portrait painter as a notional witness of vows and contracts can be found as early as Jan Van Eyck and his famous double portrait of 1434, widely known as the Arnolfini Marriage (National Gallery, London), in which Van Eyck inscribes his presence in the centre background. The convention of publicly committing oneself to a private ideal or intention through the device of a portrait containing a trompe l’oeil letter has long been popular in northern Italy, as in the portrait of a husband and wife, dated c.1523 by Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto, now in the Hermitage Museum, which portrays the couple with arms linked and between them a note in Latin on the concept of fidelity. In Trieste in the 1830s, that tradition was well established and even flourishing, thanks perhaps to the efforts of Tominc himself, who ran a sideline in this genre. At least four examples of such portraits by Tominc have appeared in recent exhibitions, of which The engaged couple – vows (I fidanzi – promessi) of 1832 is a representative sample (fig. 8). In most instances a ring or a letter, usually bearing an inscription, offers a clue to the nature of the symbolic event.21 See the exhibition catalogues of Magani, 1995, and Jaki, 2002. Examples of Tominc’s wedding portraiture include The engaged couple – vows (I fidanzati – promessi), 1832 (Musei Provinciali, Gorizia), and The Demetrio marriage (Ritratto dei coniugi di Demetrio), c.1830 (private collection). Examples of his portraits containing documents or contracts include Nazario Zetto, c.1835–40 (Pokrajinski Museum, Koper) and Mož s pismon, c.1830 (National Gallery, Ljubljana). While this tradition typically portrayed spouses together on the same canvas, some notable examples of contemporary portraiture, such as the portraits of Jacques-Louis Leblanc and his wife by Ingres of 1823, portrayed husband and wife separately to be hung as a pair. The striking similarities of composition and accessories between Tominc’s Ottoman gentleman and Ingres’s Leblanc suggest Tominc’s knowledge of this model and even raises the possibility that Tominc painted a pendant portrait of a woman, yet to be located. What seems remarkable about the Melbourne portrait, though, is that an essentially European convention should be used to commemorate a wedding between members of an Arabic-speaking Ottoman community. If so, it is presumably a rarity.

Pictorial records relating to betrothals are virtually unknown in the Islamic-dominated Ottoman culture, a consequence, perhaps, of the historical injunctions against figurative painting, but also of the Islamic world’s alternative custom of producing exquisitely decorated wedding documents, or ‘aqd-namah’, to record all the details of an alliance. While illumination was not necessary for these legally binding documents, investment in prestigious gold calligraphy was a widespread custom among the wealthy (fig. 9). The decision to employ a non-Muslim, non-Ottoman artist like Tominc may well reflect the extent to which the Arabic-speaking community of Trieste had assimilated with local practices. An adaptation of this kind might be seen as part of a wider pattern of transformations in cultural consumption observable at this time among Ottoman subjects, such as the abolition of the turban in 1829 in favour of the fez.22 This ostensibly enlightened initiative by Sultan Mahmud II to do away with visible social markers between men is widely portrayed as the beginning of a new era of mass fashion in the Ottoman world. However, its reception was highly mixed, and the fact that the sitter in the Melbourne portrait still wears a turban one year after that decree suggests resistance to an erosion of the Ottoman identity and legible signs of status among ex-patriot subjects. See Donald Quataert, ‘Clothing laws, state, and society in the Ottoman Empire, 1720–1829’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 29, no. 3, August 1997, pp. 403–25. In a recent study, historian Haris Exertzoglou has shown how commercial engagement between East and West (one of the key activities, as has been discussed, of a place like Trieste) triggered new modes of consumption in bourgeois Ottoman society and that a new preference for luxuries or ‘comfort … was one of the cultural effects’.23 ‘The extension of ties with European economies during the 18th century brought about shifts in local consumption patterns, particularly in the non-Muslim merchant communities directly involved in trade with the West’ (Haris Exertzoglou, ‘The cultural uses of consumption: negotiating class, gender, and nation in the Ottoman urban centers during the 19th century’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, February 2003, p. 79.

The decision to switch from an illuminated aqd-namah to a portrait in oils on canvas seems at once superficial and profound. Both types of artefact – document and portrait – involve a comparable financial outlay. Both are intended not only to sym-bol-ise reverence for the institution of marriage, but also to intimate in their very opulence of material and skill a degree of the wealth, luxury, status and familial alliances that might be expected to attach to that marriage. In this sense, although the forms have changed superficially, the fundamental meanings remain the same. The apparent exchange of one corner-stone of Ottoman society, such as a marriage document, into its existing cultural equivalent (a portrait or pair of portraits) within the predominant local Catholic, Italo-Slavic Biedermeier culture may well speak of a high level of assimilation within liberal and multi-ethnic Trieste, despite ongoing religious, linguistic and sartorial differences.24 For a discussion of simultaneous modernising and Westernising processes within nineteenth-century Ottoman society, see Ebru Boyar & Kate Fleet, A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, especially ch. 8. At the same time it also speaks of conscious choices being made by affluent members of Arabic-speaking Trieste society to articu-late their own customs and sense of ethnic identity through the purchase of fashionable commodities available to the Trieste middle classes more generally.

Conclusion

Early in this discussion it was indicated how the Biedermeier style was utilised by the upper and rising middle classes of central and northern Europe to help shape new social identities in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. It was further shown how Ottoman or Oriental style may, in the context of Biedermeier political culture, have helped articulate a romantic myth of the self-determined private individual – wealthy, cultured, leisured and, above all, removed from politics – a convenient and unthreatening mask, in other words, in an era of widespread repressions imposed by a fearful and reactionary state. Whatever way it is employed, the consumption of an Orientalising aesthetic can, like the commissioning of radiant portraits and elegant, plain furniture, be seen as an outcome of what Anne Tzeutschler Lurie has called the ‘growing self–confidence of the bourgeoisie’.25 Lurie, p. 4.

What seems not to have been examined elsewhere, but what the Tominc portrait allows us to ponder, is how the ‘growing self-confidence of the bourgeoisie’ that happened to be part of ethnic minorities within the Habsburg Empire, such as the worldly, Arabic-speaking and Sabir-speaking communities of liberal Trieste, might similarly have expressed itself through the consumption and manipulation of Biedermeier luxury objects. Studies of changing consumption patterns in the Ottoman world and their relation to modern Europe are still in their infancy, and they have not extended to the communities living outside the empire’s borders.26 See Suraiya Faroqhi, ‘Research on the history of Ottoman consumption: a preliminary exploration of sources and models’, in Donald Quataert, ed., Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire 1550–1922, State University of New York Press, New York, 2000. See also Suraiya Faroqhi, Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire, I. B. Taurus, 2005, especially ch. 13, ‘Elegance alafranga, social criticism and tomatoes: transformations in the culture of the Ottoman upper class 1840–1914’. In concluding it seems possible to surmise that ex-patriot Ottoman communities were perfectly capable of employing the conventions of European nineteenth-century portraiture to broker marriages and to otherwise sustain their broadly Ottoman identity – especially when that identity may have been increasingly subjected to a range of political and cultural pressures. This might have been, as we have seen, through contemporary activities, such as sitting to a society portraitist, and through the consumption of fashionable commodities widely available for the first time to whoever was able to afford them, provided by figures such as the versatile Jožef Tominc.

Sophie Matthiesson, Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2012).

Notes

I would especially like to thank Ian Coller, Yousef Alreemawi, Charlotte H. Jirousek, Stefano Carboni, Madeline C. Zilfi, Barbara Jaki and fellow NGV curators for their valued input during this preliminary investigation of a new acquisition.

1     See Hans Ottomeyer et al. (eds), Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity (exh. cat.), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2006.

2     The formal influence of Biedermeier style was however perpetuated by German-speaking furniture-makers in South Australia. See Christopher Menz, Colonial Biedermeier and German Art in South Australia During the 19th Century, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 1992.

3     Anne Tzeutschler Lurie, ‘Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller in the Cleveland Museum of Art: Portrait of Crescentia, Countess Zichy (later Countess Széchenyi) with a parrot and a camellia in a mountainous landscape’, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 81, no. 1 (Jan., 1994), p. 4.

4     Fabrizio Magani et al., Ottocento di frontiera: Gorizia 1780–1850; Arte e cultura, Electa, Milan, 1995; Barbara Jaki et al., Jozef Tominc. Fiziognomja slika (exh. cat.), Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, 2002; Maria Masau Dan et al., Giuseppe Tominz: l’arte delle virtù borghesi (exh. cat.), Museo Revoltella Trieste, Gorizia & Trieste, Trieste, 2002.

5     The portrait first surfaced auction in the 1980s at the Dorotheum, Vienna, where it was purchased for a private collector, Turin. It then passed to Piermarco Savio Antiques, Milan, in 2006 followed by Diego Gomiero Antiques, Milan, in the same year and lastly to Robilant & Voena, London, in 2007, from whom it was purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. The portrait was briefly exhibited as Ritratto di turco in L. Beatrice (ed.), Anatomia dell’Irrequietezza (exh. cat.), Palazzo della Penna, Perugia, 2007, (unpaginated).

6     Inventory essay by Prof. Fernando Mazzocca, commissioned by Robilant & Voena, dated Milan, 29 May 2006.

7     For example, Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (1721), Jean Racine’s Bazajet (1672) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters (1762).

8     Jean-Etienne Liotard (Geneva, 1702–1799) lived in Constantinople between 1738 and1742. On his return he continued to wear and draw himself in Turkish dress. He also maintained a wardrobe of Turkish costumes in his studios in which to dress his European sitters.

9     See Lois C. Dubin, The Jews of Trieste in the Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1999, ch. 1.

10     See, for example, Trieste harbour, 1802, by Louis Cassas (French 1756–1787), watercolour, dimensions unknown, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

11     See, for example, the drawing of the Tergesteo stock exchange by Casoretto, c.1844.

12     Also known as the ‘Lingua Franca of the Levant’. My thanks to Prof. Madeline C. Zilfi for her observations on typical communications of mobile and trading populations along the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts.

13     The others were Ancona, Venice and Split. See Gad G. Gilbar, ‘Muslim tujjār of the Middle East and their commercial networks in the long nineteenth century’, Studia Islamica, no. 100/101, 2005, p. 193.

14     Catalogue/webpage essay by Dr Fernando Mazzocca commissioned by the vendor Robilant & Voena, 29 May 2006.

15     On the use of the term ‘Turk’ in the West, see Jean-Claude Hocquet, ‘Venice and the Turks’, in Stefano Carboni et al., Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797 (exh. cat.), Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p. 50.

16     I wish to thank Dr Charlotte Jirousek for this observation.

17     Other famous examples of ‘ambassador portraits’ include the portraits of Mirza Abu’l Hassan Khan, Persian ambassador, sent in 1809 to King George III by Fath Ali, shah of Persia, who was painted in 1809 and 1810 by Sir William Beechey and Sir Thomas Lawrence respectively. Both portraits show the sitter with a document in his hand.

18     I would especially like to thank Dr Ian Coller and Yousef Alreemawi of the University of Melbourne for their transcription, translation and suggestions about the possible meanings of this inscription.

19     An alternative reading has been suggested for the word ‘mahr’, written as a trilateral m-h-r. In correspondence Prof. Madeline C. Zilfi has pointed out that this word without any vowelation in the original Arabic can be either ‘dowry’ or ‘signet ring’ (mühür).

20     The portrait painter as a notional witness of vows and contracts can be found as early as Jan Van Eyck and his famous double portrait of 1434, widely known as the Arnolfini Marriage (National Gallery, London), in which Van Eyck inscribes his presence in the centre background. The convention of publicly committing oneself to a private ideal or intention through the device of a portrait containing a trompe l’oeil letter has long been popular in northern Italy, as in the portrait of a husband and wife, dated c.1523 by Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto, now in the Hermitage Museum, which portrays the couple with arms linked and between them a note in Latin on the concept of fidelity.

21     See the exhibition catalogues of Magani, 1995, and Jaki, 2002. Examples of Tominc’s wedding portraiture include The engaged couple – vows (I fidanzati – promessi), 1832 (Musei Provinciali, Gorizia), and The Demetrio marriage (Ritratto dei coniugi di Demetrio), c.1830 (private collection). Examples of his portraits containing documents or contracts include Nazario Zetto, c.1835–40 (Pokrajinski Museum, Koper) and Mož s pismon, c.1830 (National Gallery, Ljubljana).

22     This ostensibly enlightened initiative by Sultan Mahmud II to do away with visible social markers between men is widely portrayed as the beginning of a new era of mass fashion in the Ottoman world. However, its reception was highly mixed, and the fact that the sitter in the Melbourne portrait still wears a turban one year after that decree suggests resistance to an erosion of the Ottoman identity and legible signs of status among ex-patriot subjects. See Donald Quataert, ‘Clothing laws, state, and society in the Ottoman Empire, 1720–1829’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 29, no. 3, August 1997, pp. 403–25.

23     ‘The extension of ties with European economies during the 18th century brought about shifts in local consumption patterns, particularly in the non-Muslim merchant communities directly involved in trade with the West’ (Haris Exertzoglou, ‘The cultural uses of consumption: negotiating class, gender, and nation in the Ottoman urban centers during the 19th century’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, February 2003, p. 79.

24     For a discussion of simultaneous modernising and Westernising processes within nineteenth-century Ottoman society, see Ebru Boyar & Kate Fleet, A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, especially ch. 8.

25     Lurie, p. 4.

26     See Suraiya Faroqhi, ‘Research on the history of Ottoman consumption: a preliminary exploration of sources and models’, in Donald Quataert, ed., Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire 1550–1922, State University of New York Press, New York, 2000. See also Suraiya Faroqhi, Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire, I. B. Taurus, 2005, especially ch. 13, ‘Elegance alafranga, social criticism and tomatoes: transformations in the culture of the Ottoman upper class 1840–1914’.