Bellini, bronze and bombards: Sultan Mehmed II's requests reconsidered


  • Antonia Gatward Cevizli

  • I am very grateful to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for sponsoring my research in the Archivio di Stato in Venice and to the University of Warwick for a Postgraduate Research Scholarship.


Gentile Bellini's portrait of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, painted in 1480 during the artist's stay in the Ottoman capital, has become emblematic of cultural exchange between Venice and the Ottomans. However, documentary evidence suggests that the sultan was more interested in obtaining bronze founders than painters. A re-consideration of the documents of the Venetian Senate from 1479–1480 will alter the perspective from which this episode is usually viewed, giving Bellini a less central role and indicating that the contemporary mission of the bronze founder Bartolomeo Bellano was of no less importance. Mehmed's requests for bronze founders – made simultaneously to Venice and Florence – have been interpreted as a sign of Mehmed's enthusiasm for portrait medals. This explanation will be questioned and it will be argued that the sultan's interest in bronze founders extended beyond their artistic production to their knowledge of cannon technology, shedding light on Venice's refusal to send a second founder.