Saturday, September 01, 2007


Sir David Wilkie, R.A. Scottish (1785-1841) |Portrait of Sotiri, Dragoman of Mr. Colquhoun,1839-40 |Watercolor and bodycolor and oil, over graphite on buff paper |47.5 x 32.8 cm.
Through Wilkie’s journals and John Nash, his lithographer, an account is provided for all the individuals within the scene. Sotiri, who sits in the center of the page, was an Albanian dragoman (a translator of Arabic, Turkish, or Persian employed in the Middle East) for Mr. Colquhoun. The boy is the son of Mustafa, the Janissary of Mr. Cartwright Consul-General in Constantinople. Wilkie could well have witnessed the interaction pictured here between Sotiri and the boy, as they were apart of the British diplomatic community in and around Constantinople and could have known one another. But, a similar drawing by Wilkie, Captain Leigh and his Dragoman (1840), involving like gestures around a hookah demonstrates that the scene was posed. It is hard to say whether this has meaning outside of purely formal concerns, though both include the elaborate illustration of smoke filling the glass chamber of a hookah and the composition may have merely been an excuse to produce an effect the artist liked.

The cityscape in the upper left of the drawing depicts the suburbs of Constantinople. To the right of Mustafa’s son there is a suggestion of architecture, possibly a niche or the frame of a window. The cityscape was perhaps originally intended to be a full vista and upon abandoning the drawing as a presentation work Wilkie also gave up on such a complicated background. The inclusion of the woman and child in the far left is a curious addition. Least developed of the portraits (though remarkable in detail), they were mostly likely added last, after the limits of the paper had become apparent. Sources identify her as Wilkie’s Landlady and focus of a later solo portrait, Madame Giuseppina, an unlikely acquaintance to either Sotiri or the boy. Isolated in the foreign city and having lost those dearest to him fourteen years earlier, a lonely Wilkie most likely manufactured a family scene from the people around him.

Dragoman from Arabic Tarjuman, Turkish Terc├╝man, official interpreter in countries where Arabic, Turkish, and Persian are spoken. Originally the term applied to any intermediary between Europeans and Middle Easterners.

1841 Lithograph David Wilkie / The Dragoman of Mr. Moore English Consul at Beyrout

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