Unknown artist Moorish Ambassador

Unknown artist
Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, about 1600
Oil on Oak Panel, 1145 x 790mm
Lent by the University of Birmingham

Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I

This portrait commemorates the visit of the King of Fez’s embassy to London in 1600-1. The sitter’s stance and clothing, as well as his prominent scimitar (curved sword), indicate his cultural and military prestige. During this time the embassy was publicly negotiating a trade agreement, but the real purpose of this visit was to form an offensive military allegiance against Catholic Spain.

The inscriptions to the left indicate the date of the visit, the name of the sitter and his age, while his title is given to the right. This painting marks a dynamic period of Anglo-Islamic exchange which encompassed artistic, diplomatic, religious and commercial spheres.

What does the ambassador’s gaze suggest about his status in England?

The first painting ever made in England of a Muslim … showed the Moroccan ambassador with a fierce and intimidating look.

Nabil Matar Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery 1999

Iznik Mosque Lamp

Date unknown
440 x 295 mm
Lent by the British Museum

Iznik, a city in the northwest of modern Turkey, was the centre for ceramics throughout the Ottoman Empire. Distinctive patterns, calligraphy and colours were produced on a wide range of objects, from palace and mosque tiles to tableware. Iznik designs are considered quintessentially Ottoman and remain desirable today.

This example, a lamp designed to be hung in a mosque, is from the sixteenth century, at the height of Ottoman power and probably produced during the reign of Suleyman I ‘the Magnificent’ whose portrait is in Room 2. Its painted decoration, intertwined floral motifs and its form were reproduced later in European ceramics. 

Enamelled Glass Mosque Lamp

Attributed to J & L Lobmeyr
Enamelled glass
317 mm
The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

There was a great surge of interest in Islamic art and culture in nineteenth-century Europe (this is also exemplified by the artefacts from the Great Exhibition of 1851 displayed in Room 15). Enamelled glass mosque lamps such as this emulated and adapted Iznik shapes, colours and designs from centuries earlier. It was probably produced by manufacturers J & L Lobmeyer in Bohemia in the 1870s, perhaps from French pattern books.

This piece, next to the Iznik example, offers a sense of how motifs and forms are transmitted between cultures over time. Unlike the Iznik example however this Lobmeyer lamp is primarily decorative.