Early 18th Century Turkish Dancer
This is one of the best-known illustrations of a Turkish dancer, hailing from the 18th century. But where did this illustration come from and why do we see so many versions in digital and print forms?
Early 18th Century Turkish Dancer
“Tchinguis, ou Danseuse Turque” is a genre-defining illustration made for the book “Recueil de cent estampes representant differentes nations du Levant.” The version above is from an early edition, first published in 1714. Original copies survive as individual plates on unbound paper and in bound book format.
Between 1706-08, Flemish artist, Jean Baptiste Vanmour (also referred to as J. B. van Mour 1671-1739) prepared an album consisting of one hundred and two paintings for the French ambassador to the Ottoman court, Charles de Feriol.
Celebrated French engraver Gérard Scotin (French: 1643-1715) transformed the original paintings into printing plates. The book was published in 1714 in two versions. A black and white version, and an ornate and lavishly bound hand-colored version.
During the 18th century, The Ottoman Empire had a growing interaction with the countries of Europe as trade in luxury goods from the East including spices, textiles, and precious gems.
This publication served to educate Europeans about the Turkish courts, political hierarchy, social practices, and of course, their clothing. The book includes examples of men and women from accross the Turkish empire.
Keep in mind, that at this point, the Ottoman Empire ruled great swaths of Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, sections of the Arabian Peninsula, and many more were under the cultural hegemony of the Turkish Empire.
Turkish Dancer: Color Variations
In the 18th century, color books were hand-painted by craftsmen working in the printing center of Europe. These book painters never saw the original paintings. Instead, they used the colors that were provided to them by the publisher. This leads to inconsistent choices for colors of the costumes and clothing presented in the book.
So depending on the exact book, you might find images where our Turkish dancer is wearing green, gold, red, or pink. What does this tell us as costume history buffs? These images feature readily made and affordable colored paint at the date and time the book was printed. It’s difficult, but historians have to resist the urge to use colorized book illustrations as accurate information.
Turkish Dancers: Cut and Style
Though we can’t “Trust the Colors,” we do know that the original paintings were made by an eyewitness observer living and working in Constantinople.
Notice that the Vanmaur carefully depicts female and male dancers in different ensembles. This information in comparison tells us, the reader, that everyone danced regardless of gender. However, there were specific clothing differences. Male dancers, above right, would wear long belted anteri (open robe) with a turban. He might also choose to wear a weapon.
In contrast, our feminine dancer would wear a shorter belted anteri over a long flowing skirt with a long, soft transparent headwrap worn over the head and around the neck and allowed to flutter loose down the dancer’s back.
Turkish Dancers: Tools of The Trade
In this image, the dancer is playing – Kaşik or Kaşiki – the predecessor of the wooden spoons used in today’s Turkish folk dances.
The ancient Greeks called these clappers Krotala, played in the Greek/Anatolian regions since pre-history. However, ancient wooden examples haven’t survived to modern times like metal finger cymbals.
Vanmaur captured this essential instrument for both male and female Turkish dancers at the beginning of the 18th century. For us nerdy historians, this tells us that the traditional Krotala style of wooden clappers was still in use in 1714.
If you would like to look at an excellent digital reproduction of our Turkish Dancer, I recommend a click-through to the Met Museum.
If you are doing research and would like to see a digital copy of all of the plates, check out a black and white edition in the New York Public Library digital collection.
For a digital copy of a hand-colored edition, check out the version at Archive.org