Chasuble section East West

Section from a chasuble made from silk lampas with thread on silk foundation 1500 – 1600
1350 x 660 mm
Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Sir Godfrey Kneller, ‘Portrait of John Banckes’ 1676
Sir Godfrey Kneller
Portrait of John Banckes 1676
Qur’an Persian

Copy of the Qur’an 1689
Ink on paper, 320 x 360 mm
Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Gilbert Soest, ‘Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk’ c.1670–5
Gilbert Soest
Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk c.1670–5

Section from a chasuble made from silk lampas with thread on silk foundation 1500–1600

Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Silk (along with spices) was the major commodity English merchants imported from the East and the Ottoman Empire was the primary conduit for goods arriving via the Silk Route. Not only were such luxury fabrics desirable and profitable, they were an important component of Western European costume – see the examples throughout this room.

Silks like this, woven with silver or gold thread, were presented as gifts to Elizabeth I from the mother of Sultan Murad III in 1593. In response was sent ‘a coach richly furnished’. This example may have been adapted for use as a chasuble (a liturgical vestment) in a Christian church.

How is the Ottoman Empire’s silk trade reflected in the English portraits in this room?

Cultural, material, and intellectual relations between Europe and the Orient have gone through innumerable phases, even though the line between East and West has made a certain constant impression upon Europe.

Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978

Sir Godfrey Kneller, Portrait of John Banckes 1676

Renaissance portraiture incorporated a remarkable range of material goods to indicate a sitter’s status – or at least the status that the subject aspired towards. Goods that had travelled a considerable distance, such as ‘exotic’ ornaments or fabrics, demonstrated financial acumen as well as taste and refinement.

The inclusion of a fine oriental carpet in Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of John Banckes is particularly apt given the sitter’s profession. Ottoman carpets were popular high-status goods (see the Ushak carpet in Room 7). Many of the other portraits in this room also conspicuously display goods as a way of asserting the sitter’s status.

The Alcoran of Mahomet Lent by the British Library

This extraordinary document is the first translation of the Qur’an into English, published in May 1649, four months after the beheading of King Charles I. The contextual material accompanying the translation – some of it attributable to the former chaplain to King Charles, Alexander Ross – imagines the two events of regicide and translation as equivalent ‘heresies’, ironically defending the study of the Qur’an as appropriate to a growing religious nonconformity in English political life.

Despite the customary ignorance, the 1649 translation is an important landmark in the study of Arabic in England and would remain the only English version available until George Sale’s famous 1734 translation.

Copy of the Qur’an 1689

Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

This single-volume Qur’an with richly embellished illuminated script in a late Safavid style, is an outstanding example of Qur’an production at the end of the seventeenth century. As the holy book of Islam, it contains the revelation of God (Allah) given to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.

The Qur’an consists of one hundred fourteen chapters (suras) divided into verses (ayat). Contrast this with the appearance of the English translation nearby, derived from a French translator who himself was an avid collector of Arabic manuscripts. It was not until the late eighteenth century that a printed Qur’an was produced for Muslim readers in Europe.

Gilbert Soest Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk about 1670–5

Henry Howard travelled widely, visiting Vienna and Constantinople in 1665, as well as India. Although his Roman Catholicism debarred him from some aspects of English public life, he was a wealthy and influential figure at court whose status is reflected in the sumptuousness of the eastern style of dress fashionably displayed here.

Howard was appointed ambassador to Morocco in 1669. There was already a long history of Anglo-Moroccan diplomacy by this time and there were a series of so-called ‘Moorish’ embassies sent to Britain throughout the seventeenth century, including the Moroccan ambassador commemorated in the portrait in Room 1.