Between the Emperor & Sultan

The Badisches Landes Museum in Karlsruhe is celebrating its hundredth “birthday” with a delicious “Keiser und Sultan” exhibition devoted to the history of the European-Turkish wars held in the heart of Europe, namely Hungary, Transylvania and the Balkan Peninsula in the 17th century. The pretext for organizing this event was the collection of war thropies brought back by the Baden margraves, which is kept on site. It is complemented by items borrowed from Dresden, Budapest, Vienna and Cracow. 

Badisches Landes Museum in Karlsruhe

The exhibition is divided into several parts, bringing closer both the culture of the sultan’s court and the military aspect of the meeting with the Habsburg Empire. A proper place was given to the leaders important in the Turkish wars – Eugene od Savoy and Louis of Baden-Baden, known as Türkenlouis, particularly close for Karlsruhe. Battle of Vienna has also an important place in the exhibition. Very impressive in that part are the tent captured by Jan III Sobieski (from the Wawel Castle’s collection), as well as elements of Hussar weaponry, including wings and headgear.

Blue tent, Wawel Royal Castle ©Uli Deck

To all those who are not enthusiasts of the sound of clashing weapons and easy divisions into good and evil I recommend visiting the exhibition with an audio guide. I usually avoid borrowing them because they prolong the viewing time too much and do not allow me to focus on the details. However, I made an exception, because I was afraid of the lack of translations into English, which with such a complex subject would “kill” the exhibition for me. It soon turned out that the recorded content creates a unique way of understanding the exhibition. It appeared later that it was not fully reflected in the  introductory texts to the subsequent parts of the exhibition, regardless of the fact that they had English translations.

Portrait of Ilony Zrínyi, first half of 18. cent, Hungarian National Museum

I was listening  to Ilona Zrínyi and the German writer (I did not write down his name), who came to Constantinople to interview her husband Emeric Thökölý, an exiled leader of the uprising against Habsburgs in Hungary. Both characters presented a different perspective on the Turkish wars, including the Battle of Vienna and the subsequent capture of Buda. The writer presented a Habsburg point of view – condemning Islamic cruelty, using offensive patterns and putting the Habsburg forces in the role of liberators of Hungary (including Transylvania and the Balkans). Ilona was born in Croatia and came from an eminent noble family. From her point of view, both the Habsburgs and the Ottomans were a threat to the freedom of her homeland, but it was the Turkish government that provided a better opportunity for development for her people. Hence her and her husband’s alliance with the Sultan in the uprising against the Empire and the consequent exile to Constantinople.

Part of the exhibition devoted to janissary, installation with dervish dance and water vessel decorated with fragments of poems or Quran.

I was delighted to hear this dual view on the issue of the threat of Islam, which is still valid today. On the one hand, the reluctant and fearful descriptions of the German writer, and on the other, the common-sense commentary by Zrinska, who personally knew the Ottoman rulers and was able to point out both the pros and cons of their governments. She also laughed at the use of the terms “oriental” in relation to Transylvanian goldsmiths (present at the exhibition), which borrowed elements of decoration from Ottoman art. She pointed that it was a native, European and not Far East product. The fact that the Ilona was Catholic adds spice to the clash.

Cases for bow and arrows, made in Transylvania, 1627 ©Badisches Landes Museum

And it was thanks to this fictional exchange of opinions that I liked the exhibition so much. It allowed me to see both the complexity of the Ottoman Empire in Sobieski’s time and the unique character of the areas that were described as the forefront of Christianity, and which de facto became its hostage and prey.

Karacena helmet, end of 17. cent., Wawel Royal Castle

For more information and photos I recommend visiting the museum website (only in German unfortunately).

https://kaiserundsultan.landesmuseum.de/

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