Rediscovered portrait medallion of Ottoman ruler valued at up to £2 million

Bronze object believed to feature earliest Western portrait of an Islamic ruler

The unique portrait medallion of Mehmed II, which has been valued at up to £2 million. Photo: Bonhams
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A medallion believed to feature the earliest Western portrait of an Islamic ruler is expected to fetch up to £2 million when it is sold in London in May.

The small bronze object depicts Mehmed II, a man regarded as one of the greatest Ottoman sultans, who oversaw an empire that stretched from central Europe into Egypt and large parts of the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century.

The ruler, who oversaw the capture of Constantinople in 1453, commissioned artists to recreate his image in portraits and sculptures, and did so “far more than any of his peers in Europe”, according to Bonhams, the art auctioneer handling the sale, which has valued the object at up to £2 million.

The medallion was only rediscovered 20 years ago, when it was included in a sale of Italian Renaissance medals, having disappeared from the record following the end of his rule.

“This major rediscovery can be placed in a period of Mehmed’s life when almost no direct material evidence of its kind has survived. It is the only known medallion of Mehmed II showing him as a young man, before he conquered Constantinople in 1453, a feat thought impossible,” said Oliver White, Bonhams' Head of Islamic and Indian Art.

“The medallion is thought to have been worn by the Sultan as a personal talisman, providing a physical manifestation of his imperial aspirations as the successor to the Emperors of Rome.”

Such medallions, which were produced in an Italian studio from the late 1430s, provided nobility with both a form of self-promotion and a sense of identity, said Bonhams.

The style of the bronze object is in keeping with others of its type produced in Italy at the time.

According to Bonhams, it was created by an unknown but skilled Western artist.

A piercing above Mehmed’s profile suggests it was designed to function as a personal talisman, to be hung around the neck.

Following the capture of Constantinople, Mehmed II claimed the title Caesar of the Roman Empire and commissioned various portraits of himself, including an oil painting by Gentile Bellini, which hangs in the National Gallery in London, which is one of the most famous.

“That Bellini portrait shows an elderly Mehmed, providing a moment of a sober reflection on a dramatic life, over which the shadow of Constantine the Great and his capital of Constantinople had loomed large,” said Bonhams.

“Thirty years earlier, Mehmed was about to embark on that extraordinary journey to become conqueror of Constantinople. But another Western artist, yet to be identified, had already codified in cast-bronze relief Mehmed’s embryonic vision of himself as the Last Roman Emperor.”

The medallion will be sold in the Islamic and Indian Art auction on May 21.

Updated: March 19, 2024, 1:59 PM