The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) received a rare, valuable portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror this week, following a delicate and complex method of transport devised to ensure the safety of the artwork.
Mehmet the Conqueror, also known as Mehmet II, was the iconic Ottoman sultan who captured Constantinople from the Byzantines at the age of 21 in 1453. The portrait is significant given Islam’s aversion toward iconography, and reflects the sophistication of Mehmet II, who spoke several languages and clearly wanted to be remembered. It is one of three known paintings of the sultan that were completed during his lifetime.
The İBB purchased the portrait from London’s Christie’s auction house in June for 935,250 pounds (7.9 million TL). The small oil painting, a masterwork of the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini, measures 33.4 x 45.4 cm and depicts Mehmet II alongside a second unknown man, both wearing the turbans that were customary dress at the time.
Mahir Polat from the İBB flew to London earlier this month to meet with Christie’s in order to determine how the painting would be transported to Turkey. It was packaged in a special box with a water gage installed and shipped upright. It arrived in the country last Friday, and on August 26 a public import document was released from customs.
Polat and other officials from the city arrived at the customs facility at the Istanbul Airport on Wednesday morning, and the the Simurg Fine Arts company transferred the painting from the warehouse to the İBB’s Saraçhane headquarters in the district of Fatih with the accompaniment of an unarmed police force that operates under the control of the municipality.