Charles Parrocel . The entrance of Mehmet Effendi to the Tuiliries Gardens on 21st March 1721. Oil on Canvas, 228 x 329 cm Versailles. Musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.
The painting depicts the event of the arrival of the Ottoman Ambassador Mehmet Effendi to the garden of Tuiliries on 21st March 1721. It was painted by Charles Parrocel, who was appointed by King Louis XV to paint the series of the visit of Turkish ambassador to France. The painting is currently in Palace of Versailles in France. This event is very significant in the history of Orientalism as it is the first time an Ottoman ambassador was sent abroad. The idea of an Ottoman Ambassador to Paris was proposed by the Grand vizier Ibrahim Pasha to the French ambassador in Ottoman ambassador Marquis de Bonnac. However Bonnac did not pay any heed to the suggestion, primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, the Ottomans previously considered it below their dignity to sent an Ottoman ambassador abroad. Even to discuss any important issue an Ottoman representative holding a low- post would be sent. Secondly, the recent mission which took place in France in 1669 during the reign of King Louis XIV, which involved an Ottoman representative Süleyman Ağa . He had presented himself with the status of ambassador where as he sent as a humble diplomat. When the King had found out the truth, he was angered and Süleyman Ağa was dishonored. Therefore, for all these reasons Bonnac did not take the effort to proceed with the Vizier's suggestion. However, the situation had changed in early 1720's. Bonnac was surprised to know that the Ottoman king, Sultan Ahmed III was eagerly writing to Paris regarding the issue of an ambassador. And the man finally chose for this post was, Mehmet Effendi. Mehmet Effendi belonged to the Janissary corps and was educated in the palace school. He was not only competent in political and military affairs but an equally talented poet and writer. The purpose of the mission, as said by Ibrahim Pasha to Bonnac was the negotiation of the release of the Turkish prisoners in France in return for granting the French king the authority to repair the damage of the Church which was situated in Jerusalem. Bonnac was not convinced with this reason as he knew the real intention of the king was to discover the details of the political stability of the French and most importantly John Law's financial scheme. John Law was a banker from Scotland who was bought to France. He was hired in order to curb the situation of the shattered French economy. So, Bonnac suspected that Sultan's main aim was to reveal the secret of the financial system of French. Bonnac's suspicion was strengthened when Mehmet was strictly advised by the Sultan to study the French culture and civilization deeply, which he did so, as visible in his Sefaretname ‘The Relation’. The ambassador's entourage was very large in number and contained around 80 people, an administrative officer, imam to lead the prayers, a treasurer, master of wardrobe, head steward, translator, doctor, a cook with assistants, coffee-maker, water carrier etc. The trip wasn't as smooth as expected. It started inauspiciously as, as upon disembarking in Toulon after 45 days at sea, Mehmet and his troop were escorted by the French authorities to the small island of Maguelone, where they were isolated because the plague was ravaging the region. After the black period of around 40 days, they had set off by boat on Canal du Midi. This canal was one of its kind in the 17th century which had joined the Mediterranean to the Atlantic by way of the Garonne River. Mehmet was fascinated by this architectural masterpiece and he mentioned about it in his book also. After passing though many obstacles and hindrances in their journey, finally Mehmet and his entourage arrived in the gates of Paris on 8th March 1721. The streets were filled with the citizens to watch the ambassador's colorful passage. The event was published the local newspaper, 'Le Nouvea Mercure'.
"Forty Turks dressed in different colors, 16 carrying pikes with horse-tails tied to the ends, the others with muskets over their shoulders. Twenty other Turks, mounted on horseback, followed, one carrying a turban, another a vase, a third a pipe and so on. A similar number were on foot.... The ambassador was on horseback, dressed in a simple green robe and a fur coat of the same color." During his stay, he observed the French culture and compared it with the Turkish culture. A very significant difference was there was no privacy. Anyone was permitted to roam about in the palace and watch the King eating publicly. They were even allowed to see the ruler wake up from the bed in the morning. This was a very odd to Mehmet because the Turkish sultan was not a public figure. He was rarely by the Turkish public whereas in France it was the opposite situation. Throughout the visit the ambassador and his troop had followed the Islamic laws and rules for their living. They prepared their own food. The French foreign minister le Dran had observed the life style of the Turkish embassy especially their food habits. He wrote : "They make many different kinds of stews and even more kinds of flaky pastry.... They never eat roast meat, except for brochettes of lamb. They eat a lot of rice and in almost all their dishes they put spices and saffron in addition to honey and butter. They eat a wide variety of salads made of different kinds of greens. Only one dish at a time is placed on the table; it is then replaced by another and so on, up to the number of 40 or 50 in the same meal. This is not the case with the salads, which are served at the beginning and remain on the table till the end." Even though French people could not share the food, but they were contend to just observe what they would eat and their way of eating. Their cuisine was much simpler compared to the French cuisine. Mehmet was received by King Louis XV, who had just turned 11,at the gardens of Tuilieries on 21st March. The crowd was huge and it was difficult to even make way for themselves. He wrote in his book "in some places there were so many people that it was difficult for even three horsemen to make their way through the crowd." There was a decent and polite exchange of greetings between the King and the ambassador. The ambassador had the privilege to see the Royal palaces, royal libraries, observatories, botanical and medicinal gardens. He was even accompanied by the King for a royal hunt. The ambassador was impressed by the French civilization and also delighted with the friendly atmosphere. At last Mehmet and his group left from Paris on 25th July. He had spent the last month in Paris by fasting as it was the holy month of Ramadan. Finally the troop departed from Paris on 7th September and reached Constantinople a month later. After his arrival, he was asked by the vizier to present a summary of this voyage. He did so, in the mean time he was preparing a detailed version for Sultan Ahmed III. Mehmet’s account had influenced the palace people. Later, Ibrahim Pasha had ordered a lot of items like the telescopes, microscopes, tapestries, pocket watches, fabrics, prints and plans of garden etc. from Paris. Many of the things was sent to Constantinople. Mehmet tried to imply many of the things he saw in Paris like the Canal, gardens and even the ceremonial processions and tried to revolutionize the Ottoman civilization. However, this were halted by 1730, when the Sultan was forced out. Mehmet was also deported to Cyprus. Mehmet's son, who had also accompanied him during his visit in Paris was made the ambassador to Sweden and pursued a bright future. Mehmet’s tour in France had an equal effect in both France and Turkey. He represented a unique culture in France which their people had never seen before and also tried to bring about the positive changes in Constantinople which were inspired by the French civilization. Hence, he was a significant figure for both French and Ottomans.
Lunde, Paul. (1993). A turk at versailles. Saudi Aramco World, 44(6), Retrieved from http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/199306/a.turk.at.versailles.htm
Shaila Fatema Ibrahim
ID : 200902421