On a recent flit through the city I popped into the Pera Museum to see how they were celebrating the link, never for one moment expecting to find any connection with home.
There I was, then, ambling along the floor that displayed paintings of İstanbul by Dutch artists, including a truly remarkable image showing a procession of dignitaries passing through the grounds of Topkapı Palace on the day that the Janissaries were paid. Bowls of rice had been set out on the ground for the soldiers, who can be seen bending to pick them up at unlikely angles, an image so extraordinary that, once seen, it could never be forgotten.
I was still thinking about that painting when I ambled round a corner and came face to face with Damat İbrahim Paşa (1660-1730), the man who laid the foundations for Nevşehir, the provincial capital of Cappadocia. The painting had been done by Jean-Baptiste Vanmour (1671-1737), who had been born in Valenciennes, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, but came to İstanbul in 1699 as part of the retinue accompanying the French ambassador. Vanmour has left hundreds of stunning images of life in İstanbul, especially during the Tulip Age reign of Sultan Ahmed III (1703-30), and it was he who painted that amazing image of the Janissaries. However, this was the first time that I had realized that there was a contemporary portrait of our local hero in existence.
In Nevşehir itself there is a life-size statue of “the Bridegroom” that stands in front of the museum gazing out over a busy road junction. That statue has been in existence for a very long time now, although it used to be more or less hidden behind a cluster of bus ticket booths with nothing to indicate whom it depicted. It was while it was standing there in anonymity that it was seen by Joyce Roper, a British woman who came to live in Nar in the early 1970s and wrote an account of her experiences. In it she describes İbrahim Paşa as looking like “a dark-brown Father Christmas in his long robes and high hat; the only thing to do with him would be to paint him red and his beard white like his fellow Anatolian, St. Nicholas.”
In Vanmour’s painting İbrahim is wearing the same high hat but now his robe is clearly made of a lustrous silk trimmed with fur, and there is a statesmanlike look about him that defies any such throwaway identification with Santa Claus. Right beside him hung a picture of his patron Ahmed III looking somewhat less statesmanlike. Comparing the two portraits, it was easy to guess who had been the real power behind the throne.
Now that İstanbul’s annual tulip festival is getting into its stride, perhaps it’s as well to pay brief homage to a man from humble Anatolian origins who became one of the great tulip lovers of all times and who stamped his mark as firmly on what was then the capital as he did on the region of his birth.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.