Ottomania wystawa w Muzeum Narodowym w Krakowie

Where is Hurrem?

This somewhat desperate and disappointed question can be found among the entries in the guest book at the exhibition titled Ottomania. The Ottoman Orient in Renaissance Art, which is displayed in the NMK halls.

Such questions are usually posed by the fans of the TV series titled The Magnificent Century, which probably has as many supporters as opponents who criticize the series for diverging from the historical reality and its “soap opera” style. Not judging this currently popular show, we would like to reassure all its fans – Hurrem can be found at the exhibition.

Hürrem Sultan is the famous Roxelana, known from history. This name, not used in Turkey, hence not present in the TV series, was given to her in Europe and this is how she is known and described in Poland. The name originates from the geographical term “Red Ruthenia”, where this famous concubine and future wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, was abducted as a captive. In reality, her name was Alexandra or Anastasia Lisowska and she was the subject of the Polish king. She played an important role at the Sultan’s court, exerting influence on many of his decisions.

The famous sultana is presented in several works, the most famous of which is the famous portrait from the workshop of Titian. She is depicted with an ermine in her hand, which symbolizes her high social status, and captivates with her delicate beauty and exotic costume, especially her high headgear, which lets out red strands of slightly curly hair.

Titian (workshop), Portrait of the Sultana Roxelana (?), c. 1545-1555, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota
Titian (workshop), Portrait of the Sultana Roxelana (?), c. 1545-1555, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota

However,  online discussion groups and social networking sites also feature ironic comments – namely that the venerable National Museum decided to hold an exhibition to “please the crowds”. This needs to be addressed and corrected. The exhibition is the result of a major three-year-long research project. When we started to plan it together with the Brussels Palais de Beaux-Arts (BOZAR), no one even heard about the TV series called The Magnificent Century in Poland. The timing of the broadcasting and the opening of the exhibition was a pure coincidence (certainly very fortunate for the fans of the TV show), and the only thing that the exhibition and the series have in common is the characters who rekindle the imagination of today’s Europeans just as they did in the 16th century. The result of this fascination is reflected in today’s popularity of the TV show and in the great Renaissance works from the world’s most important collections, which can be admired in Poland for the first time.

Both the TV series fans and its critics are welcome in the exhibition halls of our Museum. And judging by the large numbers of visitors so far, both groups will give in to the charm of Ottomania and the works gathered there, such as the beautiful La Sultana Rossa – Hurrem Sultan by the workshop of the famous Titian.

Michał DziewulskiMichał Dziewulski – curator of Ottomania exhibition

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