Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unique Bedfellows

Warning! This image is a montage put together by some enterprising soul out there on the Web. But it's worth enjoying as a composite, turning and uniting portraits of François Ier (1484 - reigned 1515-1547) and Suleiman the Magnificent (1494 - reigned 1520-1566), both by Titian (1473-1576). Especially when one considers, as I've been doing this evening, the astounding historical presence of the Franco-Ottoman Alliance that François Ier engineered with Suleiman the Magnificent. It was all to fight against Charles V, the Hapsburg Emperor, and over Italy at that. So, lots of pragmatics, but a long-term legacy as well: the turquerie of 17th- and 18th-century France (love of anything Turkish, including coffee!), for example. My research question "How was François Ier educated about the Middle East?" has several sub-questions, including "How was François Ier educated about Islam?" - this has been harder and more interesting to track because of the different kinds of Islam that the Europeans were attuned to (more subtle than we are in this understanding? perhaps). There were the Turks, and there were the Persians (with whom Charles V himself tried to get an alliance going - to no avail), and there are times when the cultures are seen differently, and others when it's all the same - great big Other. The subject of Tyranny is crucial in most discussions of Turkey in the 16th century: I'm trying to get my hands on a 1580s diatribe against Henry III entitled La France Turquie, in which the king's autocratic ways are being compared to a sultan's tyrannical ones. What makes François Ier so unusual is that he actually went through with an alliance, and maintained it (there was a permanent French embassy in Istanbul, there were trade agreements, leases of holy places and more). Considering that Constantinople had just become Istanbul (as the old song goes) in 1453, I find François Ier's reaction time relatively rapid. The alliance was first arranged in 1525, while François Ier sat in a Spanish prison having been taken prisoner at the Battle of Pavia. The really quite thorough Wikipedia web site (I actually wish that I knew who wrote that - ooo!, I just discovered that when you ask a question on your blog, it's a "bleg" - as in, I'm begging for an answer???) - anyway, the really quite thorough Wikipedia web site has an image of Louise de Savoie guiding the rudder of the state during François's captivity (this was her first regency) - it identifies the turbaned figure below as Suleiman the Magnificent which I'm afraid makes no sense at all (the pose is nigh inconceivable for the sultan; why would he be lying down if it's Louise who is asking for help? (she sent a first embassy which never made it); we have excellent portraits of him and this doesn't look anything like him) - I've read the turbaned figure identified as Etienne Le Blanc, begging (blegging? no!) for Louise's patronage (that was A.-M. Lecoq). No matter how you slice it, that's an odd image. :-) But there's Louise with her wings and her rudder in a Renaissance patio - calmly (unbelievably) ruling France.

All this to say that I found myself strangely determined and surprisingly able to get some work done today. There was an hour and a half this morning while the girls watched a movie, and then another hour and a half this evening while all three watched a movie. Thus, Charles IX (1550 - reigned 1560-1574) died to the tunes of the Barbapapas, and Henri III (1551 - reigned 1574-1589) was murdered during Dumbo (there was an odd disconnect on that one!). To your right is François Ier himself (the famous portrait by Clouet), grandfather to Charles and Henri, who were the protagonists of the final chapters of my Big Book on the French Court (by J.R. Knecht). Next, I'm going to read a book by a woman I went to graduate school with (Rebecca Zorach) entitled Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold; abundance and excess in the French Renaissance (Chicago, 2005) - I'm really looking forward to it, since it will finally combine visual culture with in-depth history (thus far, the traditional art history's been pretty dry, and the history has some blind spots - nary a word about the presence of Turkish ambassadors, for example, in the French court in the book I just read).

So what's all this adding up to, you may ask? (I certainly am!). I want to tell a small story about Louise and François for the Leeds conference talk in tracking what I might call the "Orientalist Imaginary" in the education of François Ier from his explorations within Louise's manuscripts to the Franco-Ottoman alliance. From theory to practice. I want to be very careful to not make anything too causal or over-determined, of course. It's not because François Ier read Jean Thenaud's account of his travels to Jerusalem and Egypt that he created this alliance with a Muslim ruler (would that the world of inspiration were that tidy); rather, this research becomes an opportunity to examine the several different, in fact at times very disjointed ways, that Islam and the Middle East were presented and understood in late medieval court culture. It's in the double-speak (the alliance but then condemning them as tyrants) that I'll find help from post-colonial theory and its own exploration of ambiguities. All of this reading will also help me understand wonderfully preposterous images like the one here, which depicts an unbelievable four-tiered tiara (one more tier than the pope's!) that François Ier had made for Suleiman the Magnificent in Venice. Apparently, Suleiman never wore it, but always had it by his side when receiving guests. So now that I've read a good deal about François's early days, about Louise's manuscript collection, now about François's court, I'm ready to focus on this Franco-Ottoman chapter - and happily, a book was written just in 2008 about it all: more on this topic when I've read that (will there be enough time? panic panic - no, but I am making bibliographies and am in this for the long haul and will thus just keep on going).

In the meantime, I invite you to savor this image of Suleiman which is in the (are you ready for this?) U.S. House of Representatives - he's one of 23 famous lawmakers in the history and the world that adorn said House. Kind of incredible, eh? Suleiman is in fact known as the Lawmaker in Turkish tradition - it's the West that calls him the Magnificent. I find the presence of Suleiman's image in the U.S. House of Representatives moving, to be honest. Here is a truly unusual (unique?) depiction of a Muslim ruler - not as a tyrant or autocract, but as a fellow democratic law-maker. And in the U.S. House of Representatives at that - i just don't think of it as a place that is anything but 150% American - so this homage to a Muslims law-maker in that space is all the more, well, Magnificent.

If you're still with me here it's because you want to know about the kids. :-) The girls and I spent a day at home: strike day. I should have had them watch the 1 p.m. news with me to see the footage: the paper reports 500,000 people in the streets all over France (15,000 in Nantes, for instance). Even daycare center workers were on strike today - so there is really a call to the government to come out and support education at all levels. They missed school, though, and worried about Oliver being "on his own." Oliver, meanwhile, had an absolute blast at school, starting the day off with another 3 hours of "Atelier Cirque" - today it was tumbling in addition to reviewing the juggling of yesterday. Thursday (he said, shaking with excitement), they get to learn how to be clowns. Truly - ecstasy here. So I asked Oliver at dinner why he thought that here in France there was a huge Circus unit taking up the entire half of a week of school. He answered that he thought it had to do with France being more in the olden times, and America being more modern. Isn't that interesting? I'm not entirely sure what it means, though. :-) He did go on to talk about how getting to know the Circus over a whole week was more French because in America you only go to the circus for a couple of hours. Is he talking about efficiency? I had some ideas about joie de vivre - but I like Oliver's explanation better. Tomorrow, we have no great aspirations: finish up some books, fun lunch, go to the library in the afternoon. Fingers crossed for good weather so's we can get out and romp about a bit!

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