This presentation examines aspects of the interaction between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries through a contextual analysis of a particular type of document, the costume album. Costumes were a focal point of the early European exploration of foreign cultures: determined in many pre-modern societies by the wearer's ethnic and occupational identity, attire became an ideogrammatic system with which the West represented the Orient. Thus, illustrated albums featuring compilations of costumes evolved into metonyms for the mores of other cultures, as costume came to represent custom.
Ottoman costume albums have received considerable attention in recent years, much of which has tended to regard them as a sui generis expression of early orientalism. This paper situates European-produced albums depicting Ottoman costumes at the crossroads of two representational strands: on the one hand, the large corpus of printed books depicting European costumes, as well as related traditions such as the Dance of Death and the Town Cries; and on the other, the books of marvels depicting the monstrous races and fabulous creatures inhabiting the terra incognita.
Initially produced by European travellers and reproduced through systematic copying, costume albums depicting Ottomans were eventually produced within the Ottoman Empire itself, by local artists commissioned by western travellers. The ease with which Ottoman artists were able to respond to this foreign demand is tied once again to the presence of two cultural traditions, this time Ottoman: encyclopaedic compilations focused on a particular subject such as biographical dictionaries of poets; and performative representations of Ottoman society in court ceremonial, guild parades, and later, shadow puppet theater.