BELLINI, Gentile
(b. ca. 1429, Venezia, d. 1507, Venezia)

Mehmet II

Oil on canvas, 70 x 52 cm
National Gallery, London

Gentile Bellini visited Constantinople from 1479 to 1481. The trip was undertaken in the wake of the peace treaty made between Venice and the Turkish sultan, Mehmet II, who took the opportunity of asking the Venetian Senate to send him a good portrait painter.

The portrait was the first work in which Gentile shifted the position of the sitter's head and body away from pure profile toward the three-quarter view made fashionable by Antonello da Messina. Also, in an unusual variation on the illusionistic motif of the foreground parapet, he framed the sitter in a classicising archway and draped the high sill with a cloth of gold richly studded with jewels.

It is possible that the sultan commissioned the portrait as a diplomatic gift for the doge. The widespread curiosity in Italy about Gentile's visit and about the appearance of the sultan led to the creation of a number of copies and variants of the image, presumably on the basis of the painter's preparatory drawing. After his return to Venice in 1481, Gentile also designed a portrait medal of Mehmet, likewise for the purpose of wide circulation.