A Life Size Portrait of Sultan Murad III

A Life Size Portrait of Sultan Murad III r1574-1595

A Life Size Portrait of Sultan Murad III
Country of Origin: Ottoman Empire

Date of Origin: circa A.D.1550

Size: 167.5 by 93.5cm.

Description: Oil on canvas, a legend in Spanish reading "Sultan Morat Han Emprador de TK..."

Notes: This magnificent portrait of Murad III (1546-1595) would appear to be one of a series that includes portraits of Mehmed I, Murad II and Sultan Mustafa I. Produced for the European market in the 17th century, at least two of these portraits now hang in the Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi in Istanbul (Istanbul 2002, no.68, p.316; no.76, p.310). The portrait of Sultan Murad III is not recorded as part of this series, and it is tempting to suggest that the present lot is a missing link between the surviving paintings. The similarities between these portraits are quite remarkable, as each figure is portrayed in the same style and environment. The sitter kneels before a large bolster reminiscent of a throne, the rest of the background lost in shadow. They wear carefully rendered and richly decorated robes of fabric bearing Spanish designs, their faces turned towards us in three quarter profile. Perhaps most tellingly, the portraits share the same Spanish legend naming the figure depicted.

Murad III was the twelfth Ottoman Sultan, acceding to the throne in 1574 his rule was one that was fraught with internal political strife. His regime was divided between several powerful factions all vying against one another to reach supremacy within the court, and whose petty quarrels resulted in the long drawn out war between the Ottomans and the Hapsburg Emperor that began in 1593, as well as the war with Safavid Persia that was instigated in 1578. His reign also saw a change in the position of the Ottoman empire in the international arena and the devaluation of the Ottoman currency that ignited the revolts of the Janissary Corps and the Sipahis of the Porte.

Due to the strong influence of his mother and sisters, Murad the third's court, as well as his personal life were largely controlled by the harem clique and his viziers, with much of the decision making left in the hands of the sultan valide and her cohorts. However Murad III was a generous and sensitive character and an active patron of the arts whose love of life manifested itself in poetry, pageantry and the arts. Along with Suleiman the Magnificent, Murad III is known as one of the greatest Ottoman patrons of the arts and sciences, he himself wrote mystical poetry and is thought to have been the author of a theological treatise called Futuhat al-Siyam, The Revelations of Fasting. He filled his court not only with light hearted jesters, dwarves and clowns but also with weighty men of letters, science and the 'uluma. Murad commissioned several great albums filled with miniatures, including the chronicles of Shehnamedjis as well as a Shahinshahname and Zubdet al-Tawarikh that narrate the events of his reign. He even instigated a new literary genre by ordering a description of the circumcision festivities of his son in 1582.

Murad's regnum years coincided with the life time of the legendary architect Sinan, whose last building was commissioned by the Sultan at Manisa. Other lofty building works took place under the sultan's aegis including the addition of the Alay Koshku to the royal palace, the conversion of the St. Mary Pammacaristos church into the Fathiya Mosque in 1586 to commemorate the army's successes in Georgia and Azarbayjan, as well as the extensive restoration work undertaken at the holy cities of Mecca and Medinah.

He was not a cruel man, and protested loud and long at the assassination of his brothers when he came to the Ottoman throne. Nor did he have his viziers murdered after their dismissal, as was the wont of other Ottoman Sultans. Murad III was an energetic man who spent much of his time in the saddle or in mock combat with the sword and the bow and arrow, his particular strengths lying in archery. Rather than passing his time with alcohol, tobacco and other narcotic substances, he preferred to amuse himself in the harem siring 56 children, seven of which were born after his sudden death at the age of 49.