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A View of a Foreign Culture - Melchior Lorck in Turkey 1555-59 at Statens Museum for Kunst
Melchior Lorck (1526 - 1588), Portrait of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent Portrait of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Statens Museum for Kunst, 1559.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK.-A riveting and extraordinary chapter of Danish art is unfolded when Statens Museum for Kunst participates in an extensive celebration of the 16th century artist Melchior Lorck. The exhibition focuses particularly on Lorck’s watershed The Turkish Publication, thus portraying an interesting and in many ways exemplary cultural meeting between East and West. At the same time, the exhibition signals the start of a number of regular exhibitions, which will reassert the status of the Museum’s rich Department of Prints and Drawings.

Melchior Lorck (1526/27-1588?) is the first Danish-born artist whose life work is so comprehensively documented. However, and despite great interest on the part of Danish and foreign researchers, Lorck is a relatively unknown artist in wider circles. Later this spring, a major work in several volumes about the outstanding artist will be published, written by Erik Fischer, the former long-term head of The Department of Prints and Drawings at Statens Museum for Kunst. The occasion of the exhibition is this major publication, and is thereby part of a wider celebration of Lorck, in which The Royal Library is also participating.

Cosmopolitan at the King’s expense - Melchior Lorck’s remarkable life began in Flensburg. From an early age, he exhibited considerable artistic abilities. King Christian III offered to finance Lorck’s education abroad, on the condition that he later served as court artist. Lorck visited the chief artistic centres in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, but when the money ran out, he did not return to his benefactor as he had promised. Instead he made his living at minor princely courts, until he was employed in Vienna in 1555 by Ferdinand I, the future Holy Roman Emperor.

The Turkish Publication - The Emperor dispatched Lorck to Constantinople (Istanbul) as part of a diplomatic mission, whose purpose it was to negotiate peace with the Ottoman Empire. Lorck was entrusted with the task of recording their way of living, thus enhancing Western knowledge of Turkish culture. When Lorck returned to Vienna in 1559, his sketches from the journey were worked up in 128 woodcuts in all, which are known today under the title of The Turkish Publication. This apparently restless artist never achieved a final completion of the work, however. He never realised the projected publication himself. Instead, Lorck returned to Denmark in 1580, where the new king, Frederik II, restored him to favour and gave him work. But just two years later, the aging Lorck travelled off again, leaving few traces of his later movements. His final works are, surprisingly enough, motifs from the Gold Coast in West Africa. The Turkish Publication was first printed in 1626.

Without precedent - The exhibition of 106 works at Statens Museum for Kunst offers a comprehensive insight into Lorck’s quite unique artistic idiom. Initially there is a richly illustrated introduction to the artist and his time. Then there is a thematic hanging of almost all the woodcuts from The Turkish Publication. The originality of these meticulous and detailed pictures is incontrovertible. No European artist had previously portrayed so extensively the reality which Lorck encountered in Turkey. In other words, Lorck had no iconographic tradition to draw upon. The exhibition illustrates the quite special mannered elegance of The Turkish Publication, which was Lorck’s creation of an idiom that could “translate” the foreign culture into a European pictorial language. At the same time, the exhibition demonstrates how Lorck’s pictures from Turkey are markedly different from European prejudice of his time about Turks. There are no echoes here of the usual tales about Muslim culture being heathen, hostile and primitive. On the contrary: Lorck’s pictures seem to be infused with a certain matter-of-factness and thorough respect for, and interest in, the foreign culture.

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