A Rare And Important Carved Cameo Depictıng Barbarossa And Sinan Reis


Estimate 60,000 — 80,000 GBP

comprising a carved agate portrait faceted around the edge to form an elongated octagon set in a frame of panels of bloodstone, the reverse with a facing of lapis lazuli, all mounted within an oval seventeenth century silver-gilt mount embellished with stylised floral appliques enamelled in white, a knop-form finial pierced with a loop for suspension, in fitted leather case

2.5cm.,the cameo
7.9cm., the mount


Catalogue Note

The career of Khayr al-Din (Khidir) Pasha, known to his contemporaries as Barbarossa, spanned from infamy to authority. Born to a Turkish military father and Greek mother in Metellin around 1466 he spent his early career shipping goods, first around the Aegean and later from North Africa to Rumelia. Long in the shadow of his older brother, Arudj, Khidir brought his two ships to North Africa to work with him, first out of Tunis and then Algiers. On Arudj’s death in 1518, Khidir was left on his own to face an assault by Hugo of Moncada, viceroy of Sicily, on Tangiers. With Turkish and local troops he was able to reverse a landing by the Spanish forcing them to take to their ships which were then hit by a fierce storm sinking many. Khidir took numerous prisoners and subsequently strengthened his position across this coastline. It is reputedly the Christians that at this time began to refer to him as Barbarossa because of the colour of his beard. It was also at this time that he assumed the honorific title of Khayr al-Din and also of sultan. Shortly after this, in 1519, he sent an embassy to Selim I to ask for help and protection from the Ottoman sultan. The embassy was well received and from this point Algiers came under the overlordship of the Ottoman ruler. But despite a garrison of two thousand janissaries, Barbarossa was ousted from Algiers by a force led by the sultan of Tunis and supported by the population of Algiers itself. Fleeing with nine ships, he began a career of privateering settling in Djarba and drawing the most ruthless corsairs of the age to join his fleet in ravaging the coasts of the Western Mediterranean. His success encouraged Barbarossa to retake Algiers. This did not prevent him from engaging in more public spirited acts. In 1529, he sent a fleet of fifteen ships to Spain to support the Morisco population at Oliva who were in revolt. The ships were loaded with as many Moriscoes as possible and brought back to Algiers despite Spanish attacks off the coast of Majorca.


Barbarossa continued his plundering of the Ligurian and, in particular, the Spanish coast to rich reward and, in the process, capturing much of the defensive fleet and rebuffing several strenuous attempts to subdue him. Ostensibly at odds with these activities, but perhaps in recognition of the power they had given him over the Mediterranean, in 1533 Barbarossa became the intermediary between Francis I of France and the Ottoman sultan receiving a French ambassador who was making his way to Aleppo. Barbarossa sailed with a small fleet first to Istanbul and then to Aleppo later in the same year, having been bestowed with various titles including Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Fleet and Beylerbey of the Islands. The following year he was charged with the mission of taking Tunis for the brother of Mawlay al-Hasan and took the opportunity to pillage the coastline of Italy including the Gulf of Naples. In April 1535, another French ambassador, La Forest, visited Barbarossa in Tunis on his way to Istanbul where he began arrangements for a joint Franco-Ottoman attack on Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, then under Spanish control. In anticipation of this, on 14 June 1535, Charles V took action against the strongholds of Barbarossa. With a force of 300 ships and 30,000 men he took Tunis forcing Barbarossa to flee to Algiers. Undaunted, Barbarossa continued to busy himself with preparations of the fleet that the Ottomans had promised the French for their Italian expedition. From 1537, he used part of this fleet to take many of the islands held by the Venetians in the Aegean. On 27 September 1538 off the coast from Prevese, an Ottoman fleet of 120 ships under the command of Barbarossa clashed with a Christian fleet of 138 galleys and 70 ships, amassed by the Pope, Emperor and the Venetians under the command of Barbarossa’s old adversary, Andrea Doria. The skirmish ended in the retreat of Doria’s fleet thus ensuring Ottoman dominance of the Mediterranean for the next 33 years. Interestingly, Barbarossa’s pursuit of the defeated Christian fleet was administered with a patience that signalled an understanding that the two admirals are said to have reached in secret negotiations to allow for mutual preservation.
Finally, in 1543, Barbarossa took command of the Ottoman fleet in the joint action with France. He ravaged the Italian coast, causing terror in Rome by pausing at the Tiber. He joined the Duc d’Enghien, commander of the French fleet, at Marseilles from where the combined forces sacked Villefrance and, unsuccessfully, besieged Nice. With the arrival of Andrea Doria’s fleet and the army of the Marquis del Vasto, Barbarossa was forced to retreat for the winter to Toulon, taking the opportunity to plunder whenever it arose. The Peace of Crepy was negotiated in the following year, ending the war between Charles V and Francis I and Barbarossa sailed back to Istanbul, again pillaging the coasts of Tuscany and the kingdom of Naples on his way.
Barbarossa died on 4 July 1546, having spent the remaining years of his life engaged in philanthropic pursuits, including the building of a mosque and a medrese in Besiktas. He was buried there in a mausoleum built by Sinan, the great architect of the age. In subsequent years, the Ottoman fleet, as they passed this monument, would fire a salvo in respect. Barbarossa was integral to the establishment of Ottoman provinces in North Africa and to the establishing of Ottoman maritime dominance in the Mediterranean. He was a hero to the Ottoman Empire. To the Christians around the Mediterranean he was both feared and respected, known not only as a fearsome admiral but as a man of generosity and prudence (EI, IV, p.1155-58).

In Pursuit of the Illustrious

A fascination with the prominent figures of the day, both of their deeds and their portraits, was a not unpopular pastime amongst the learned and inquisitive men of Western Europe. One of the most famous cases of this is that of Paolo Giovio, an Italian who showed a greater determination and adeptness in amassing information and imagery than most of his contemporaries. He was an historian, biographer, political thinker and collector and although his example might be an extreme, it provides a useful, and relatively well studied, account of how this intellectual acquisitiveness pervaded the lives of the notables of this period, not just in Italy but elsewhere in Europe as well. This interest in the portraits of the illustrious figures of the day was fed by printed books, copies of paintings, bronze and silver medals and, occasionally, carved cameos.

For Italians of this period such as Giovio, the primary concerns were, perhaps, the rise of Charles V, his rivalry with Francis I, the Counter-Reformation and the looming power of the Ottoman Empire. With regard to the latter, for many Italians, the most colourful figure of the Ottoman Empire was not the great sultan, Suleyman, but his Grand Admiral, Khayr al-Din Barbarossa, who, with irritating frequency and apparent ease, actually came to the shores of Italy to plunder and enslave. His reputation was not simply that of the merciless corsair but also as one capable of good judgement and prudence, as his reputed arrangement with Andrea Doria confirmed. The height of Barbarossa’s notoriety came as a result of Charles V’s attack and capture of Tunis in 1535. This event stimulated a great demand for portraits of the protagonists of whom Barbarossa was amongst the most important (Klinger and Raby 1989, p.51). Just prior to this battle, probably in 1533-34, Paolo Giovio had managed to acquire a likeness of Barbarossa, probably taken during the admiral’s visit to Istanbul (ibid., p.50). Giovio’s obsession didn’t end here: he went on to own the great Ottoman’s Qur’an, his velvet kaftan and his vessels for eating and drinking (Mack 2002, p.166). Although many of Giovio’s paintings were damaged or lost after the flooding of his villa in Como in 1569, a fragmentary portrait in the Art Institute of Chicago may be the remains of his portrait of Barbarossa (Klinger and Raby 1989, pp.47-51). From other contemporary images, the subject of this painting can be readily identified as Barbarossa. But the Chicago painting is not of one figure but of two. Standing behind Barbarossa is an elderly man, also in profile, his eye closed by blindness, who, from printed works of the sixteenth century, is recognisable as Sinan Reis, known as Sinan the Jew of Smyrna, Barbarossa’s principal lieutenant (Bradford 1969, p.97). They formed a loyal friendship and reliance and it is this same figure that appears behind the profile of Barbarossa on this cameo emphasising the strength and fame of their friendship. The depiction of both figures seems close to that of the Chicago portrait, but, since Giovio allowed it to be copied in various media, its influence may not have been direct. The inclusion of both figures against the norm of single figure portraits does, however, provide an interesting and unparalleled similarity between the two works. Their notoriety in Europe continued beyond the loss of Tunis. The defeat of the united fleet of the Papacy, Empire and Venetians at Prevese reasserted Barbarossa’s power in the region and when he joined forces with the fleet of Francis I at Marseille his reputation must have been familiar all across the western Mediterranean as well. The demand for the portraits of Barbarossa could not have been greater. The joint action with the French fleet was his last naval action. Since further copies of his portrait were made later in the seventeenth century and his portrait continued to be included in editions of Giovio’s portraits published posthumously in the 1570s, there was clearly some residual interest in the main players of these events into the second half of the sixteenth century. However, his fame was at its greatest in the period 1535-45 and this remains the period during which demand would have been greatest for such objects as the cameo.


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