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19th Century French Burled Wood Snuff Box with Portrait of Mahmud II

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    Posted 10 years ago

    (122 items)

    What you have seen is an image of a small antique burled wood French snuff box. Measuring about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches in height, the walnut burled wooden box is lined with tortiose shell. It has a very finely painted portriat of what appears to be a Persian Gzar. The protriat is about 2 inches in diameter including it's metal frame and is covered by concaved glass.

    A portrait miniature is a miniature portrait painting, usually executed in gouache, watercolour, or enamel.
    Portrait miniatures began to flourish in 16th century Europe and the art was practiced during the 17th century and 18th century. They were especially valuable in introducing people to each other over distances; a nobleman proposing the marriage of his daughter might send a courier with her portrait to visit potential suitors. Soldiers and sailors might carry miniatures of their loved ones while traveling, or a wife might keep one of her husband while he was away.
    The first miniaturists used watercolour to paint on stretched vellum. During the second half of the 17th century, vitreous enamel painted on copper became increasingly popular. In the 18th century, miniatures were painted with watercolour on ivory. As small in size as 40 mm × 30 mm, portrait miniatures were often used as personal mementos or as jewellry or snuff box covers.
    From the mid-19th century, the development of daguerreotypes and photography contributed to the decline in popularity of the miniatures.

    According to information received, the portriat atop the snuff box cover is none other than, Mahmud II (Ottoman Turkish: ????? ???? Mahmud-? s?n?) (20 July 1789 – 1 July 1839). He was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born in the Topkapi Palace, Constantinople,[1] the posthumous son of Sultan Abdulhamid I. His reign is notable mostly for the extensive administrative, military and fiscal reforms he instituted, which culminated into the Decree of Tanzimat (Reorganization) that was carried out by his sons Abdülmecid I and Abdülaziz I. (Ottoman Turkish: ????? ???? Mahmud-? s?n?) (20 July 1789 – 1 July 1839) was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born in the Topkapi Palace, Constantinople,[1] the posthumous son of Sultan Abdulhamid I. His reign is notable mostly for the extensive administrative, military and fiscal reforms he instituted, which culminated into the Decree of Tanzimat (Reorganization) that was carried out by his sons Abdülmecid I and Abdülaziz I.

    During the early years of Mahmud II's reign, his governor of Egypt Mehmet Ali Pa?a successfully reconquered the holy cities of Medina (1812) and Mecca (1813) from the Nejdi rebels.

    His reign also marked the first breakaway from the Ottoman Empire, with Greece gaining its independence following a rebellion that started in 1821. In 1827 the combined British, French and Russian navies defeated the Ottoman Navy at the Battle of Navarino; in the aftermath, the Ottoman Empire was forced to recognize Greece with the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. This event, together with the occupation of the Ottoman province of Algeria by France in 1830, marked the beginning of the gradual break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Non-Turkish ethnic groups living in the empire's territories, especially in Europe, started their own independence movements.

    Among Mahmud II's most notable acts during his reign was the abolition of the Janissary corps in 1826, permitting the establishment of a European-style conscript army, recruited largely from Turkish speakers of Rumelia and Asia Minor. Mahmud was also responsible for the subjugation of the Iraqi Mamluks by Ali Ridha Pasha in 1831. He ordered the execution of the renowned Ali Pasha of Tepelena. He sent his Grand Vizier to execute the Bosniak hero Husein Gradaš?evi? and dissolute the Bosnia Eyalet.

    He began preparations for the Tanzimat reforms in 1839. The Tanzimat marked the beginning of modernization in Turkey, and had immediate effects on social and legal aspects of life in the Empire, such as European style clothing, architecture, legislation, institutional organization and land reform.

    He was concerned also for aspects of tradition. He made great efforts to revive the sport of archery. He ordered his archery student, Mustafa Kani, to write a book about the history, construction, and use of Turkish bows, from which comes most of what is now known of Turkish bowyery,
    the mausoleum (türbe) of Sultan Mahmud II, located at Divan Yolu street.
    Mahmud II died of tuberculosis - some say he was murdered - at the Esma Sultana Palace, Çaml?ca, in 1839. His funeral was attended by crowds of people who came to bid the Sultan farewell. His son Abdülmecid succeeded him.

    The portrait is possibly, one of a series commissioned by Stratford Canning (later Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe), 1786-1880. In fact, Mahmud II frequently ordered miniature paintings of himself. Stratford Canning began his long diplomatic career in Turkey as first secretary to Robert Adair on his mission to Istanbul in 1808. On arrival Canning soon arranged to see officially (and unofficially) all manner of Ottoman institutions, buildings and customs. What made his curiosity really valuable is that he hired a local artist to make this large series of views and studies of what he had seen. The identity of the artist is unknown, though Turkish scholars believe that he was part of the studio or circle of Konstantin Kapidagli. His style combines the dense and brilliant water and bodycolour used by Ottoman artists with European conventions of representation and perspective.
    As a young man, the artist and future neo-classical architect Charles Cockerell went to Istanbul in 1810, stayed at the embassy, and even met Byron there. There Cockerell (with an interpreter) met and discussed painting technique with this Greek artist whom, frustratingly, he did not name in his letters. Cockerell's copies of the Greek's architectural views are now in the British Museum.
    I welcome any and all information pertaining to this item, especially the name of the person in the portriat.

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    1. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      I like the box with seahorse and porcelain cabochon too: English? Ruskin Pottery?

      How about Mahmud II Sultan of the Ottoman Empire?
      He instigated the clothing reform of 1826.
      Important point with the period of this portrait.
      This is a good article on his reforms and tastes:

      Note the portrait here!
    2. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      There is an original portrait at the Topkapi Museum of Mahmud II which is the basis of the portrait in the link I mentioned above, It is described as:
      Sultan II. Mahmud’un sade Tasvir-i Hümayunu.
      Hakkak: Marras, 1832 Fildi?i üzerine ya?l?boya.
      Topkap? Saray? Müzesi Hazine Dairesi Koleksiyonu.

      Sultan Mehmet II. The Imperial Mahmud simply depicted.
      Scribing: Marras, 1832 Oil on Ivory.
      The Treasury Department of the Topkapi Palace Museum Collection.
      It gives then a possible time period for your snuff box.
      Nice, no?
      Also a name to play with.
      "John Marras was a French portrait miniaturist working in New york City during the first decade of the 19th century. He later appears as a court painter to the Sultan in Constantinople."
    3. miKKoChristmas11 miKKoChristmas11, 10 years ago
      Hello! I haven't been on CW for a good while, but our brilliant colleague Vetraio forwarded me a link to your entry, and I was enchanted by your item. Exceptionally fine! Have you had it professionally appraised? I took a peak at Vetraio's splendid hypothesis and found it credible and exciting. Bravo, Vetraio!!! I think that a Marras hypothesis deserves further inquiry. Also, can anyone speak to the decoration the subject of the portrait bears about his neck? While skimming some paintings, I saw two different forms of 'this medal' and I wonder if this medal can be used to narrow down the field of prospects. : )
    4. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      The medal interests me too miKKo.
      It might be that of a 'Pasha'.
    5. cwpost cwpost, 10 years ago
      As special thanks to vetraio50. It's apparent that you are a "Renaissance man".
      That being said, you could know almost everything about many topics. Thank you much.....................
      Thank you much, miKKoChristmas11. I have not had it professionally appraised since this as many items are not for sale and part of my private collection. But, I suppose I should because everything has a price.
    6. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      Hi again.

      The concept at the end of Stratford Canning, Charles Cockerell is interesting but pertains to the portrait in the V&A, I think.

      In the V&A portrait you see the Sultan in the traditional robes. The date is around 1809.

      Later in his reign in 1826 he introduced the wearing of the Fez and the Ottomans adopted clothing and manners based on European models of the time. Note here on your box he is in Fez and European military uniform. This article explains the significance of his actions:

    7. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      miKKo's point about the jewel is discussed in the article I mentioned earlier on.
      It is about Turkish numismatics and ....... unfortunately for us is in Turkish.

      I've put some of it through the Google translator.
      I think the award he is wearing is referred to in the article and is known in Turkish as "Tasvir-i Hümayun". I'm not 100 per cent sure.
      In the Turkish text however there is mention of the presentation of snuff boxes with portraits of Mahmut II to foreign ambassadors:
      "Ancak Tasvir-i Hümayun, Osmanl?lar?n erken dönemlerde yabanc? elçilere taltif amac?yla sunduklar?, kendi portreleriyle süslü enfiye kutular?n?n ötesine geçiyor, resmi bir ni?an niteli?i tas?yordu."
      The quality of the translation is poor I know but the gist is there:
      "Offered to foreign ambassadors in early stages of the Ottomans rewarded their snuff boxes decorated with portraits go beyond a formal engagement of the carried.
    8. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      The introduction of the "Tasvir-i Hümayun" enables one to date the box to c. 1832.

      My quote about John Marras comes from a Christies item. The Topkapi museum's portrait of Mahmut II wearing the "Tasvir-i Hümayun" is attributed to Marras.

      "Initially, a kind visitor expressed the opinion that the miniature may be by John Marras who was born in France, but worked in New York between 1801 and 1808, before moving to Constantinople where he became painter to the Sultan.

      In 1994 Christie's sold as Lot 146; "JOHN MARRAS, Dated 1804 portrait miniature of Mrs. McAwly Watercolor on ivory, signed l.l. John Marras fecit 1804, the case inscribed, "Mrs. McAwly, Temora," 3 1/8 in. high. John Marras was a French portrait miniaturist working in New York City during the first decade of the 19th century. He later appeared as a court painter to the Sultan in Constantinople." Unfortunately no photograph is available.

      Little is known about John Marras. In his book William Dunlap refers to a M. (presumably for Monsieur) Maras, but is not complimentary, saying "A Frenchman by birth, M Maras visited America about the year 1800. In 1801-2 he painted poor miniatures in New York. A poor or bad artist flourishes best where the people are most ignorant; and M. Maras, with great judgement, transferred himself to Constantinople, where he is at the head of affairs in the department of the fine arts, and painter to the sublime Sultan."

      I note that the Topkapi's portrait does not look to be signed from what we can see.
    9. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      To clarify "Tasvir-i Hümayun".
      It seems that portraits of the Sultan were painted and were worn around the neck. They were jewels in themselves studded with diamonds or pearls.
      This was not liked by the orthodox clerics of that time.

      "Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839) was the first Turkish monarch to follow the example of his western counterparts and have his portraits hung in government offices and presented as gifts. Following the dissolution of the janissaries in 1826 a miniature portrait of the sultan in military uniform was painted. It measured 6.5 by 7.5 centimetres, and his face was framed by a design of yellow and pink roses in relief and diamond studded blue flowers. Known as Tasvir-i Hümayun, copies of this portrait were worn around the neck on chains or hung on the walls of government offices."

      But portraits were also inserted into snuff boxes and given as gifts to ambassadors.
      As such these snuff boxes like yours fall under the desirable heading of "Tasvir-i Hümayun"

      And then came "photography"
      The discovery of photography was announced in Turkey on 28 October 1839.
    10. vetraio50 vetraio50, 10 years ago
      As an aside Jean Marras was also the grandfather of the French XIXth century writer Jean Marras a friend of the "Parnassiens" and the "Symbolistes" Leconte de Lisle, Léon Dierx, Catulle Mendès, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam et Stéphane Mallarmé.
    11. AtiyeSultan AtiyeSultan, 4 years ago
      Hi cwpost,

      I know this is a long shot, since this post is over five years old, but I'm hoping to get in contact with you to talk about this snuff box. I'm working on a project right now that looks at imperial portraits of Mahmud II and I'd like to find out if your piece fits into a larger story. If you are interested, please reply to this post and I will provide you with my email address.


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