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Tunisian Muslim military officer
Daguerreotype, 3/4 plate, in whole plate case
Private collection of Jason David Wright
Description by Jason Wright (22 April 2017)
Military Image of a Tunisian Muslim Officer From Either a Band or Cavalry Regiment Likely Taken in Tunis By A French Daguerreian.
The plate itself measures 6.5 x 4.85 inches and sits behind a very heavy brass oval mat which in turn sits in a rare whole plate half case with impressed circle motifs. The plate has 3 stamped devices. The first is a stamped 40; the 2nd is the earlier version of the 6 sector flower asterisk with the flat petal endings; and the 3rd is a lozenge with non-descript contents.
The confident man is certainly ethnic and his look places him anywhere from northern Africa, the Middle East or even India. His square beard is that worn by the Muslim faith of the period and his tarboush (fez) is certainly indicative of an Ottoman soldier, post-1832. The tinted light blue short jacket with six rows of braid also matches that worn in the Ottoman Army before and during the Crimean War. Sultan Mahmud II made enormous changes to the Ottoman Army and, after "neutralising" the Janissaries, created a modern, professional army that increasingly adopted Western-style uniforms, as well as modern armaments. One source states that the shell jacket was adopted c. 1839. The uniform is that of an officer given that the headdress tassel is gold (junior ranks wore blue or black).
On initial inspection, I believed the officer to be either from the Ottoman Cavalry Imperial Guard regiment but according to the world’s leading expert on Ottoman military uniforms (Chris Flaherty), we can pin him down to a specific corner of the Ottoman Empire and to Tunisia. He goes further by stating that he is likely a Tunisian army bandsman.
Ottoman Empire photographs are exceedingly rare during this period, and according to the Ottoman Military expert, this is the only known Tunisian military photograph from the Crimean War period (also nothing known before this period either). Until the 1870's, when the head of the Ottoman Empire (the Turkish Sultan) took up the photography (ordered Constantinople prison inmates to be photographed) any attempt to reproduce a living creature was blasphemy (hence the scarcity of photos from this period). It is for this reason that Ottoman military insignia, medals, etc. do not carry images of human beings or animals.
Studio wise, the Tunisian capital of Tunis is a likely location with an ex-pat French daguerreian as the artist. There was a growing French community there in that period, which continued to grow till the French annexation in 1882. Research shows that there were no known Tunisian daguerreians during this time but there were a few French operators (the most likely candidate being Pierre Trémaux – he was mainly known for his salt prints but was also was engaged with daguerreotypy). The tear drop fret work underneath the studio table also points to a North African origin and not that of a more western studio. The circle motif whole plate half case also has an Ottoman feel to it and as far as I can see is not listed in Berg’s catalogue.
A rare, large and important piece.