Janissaries with soup kettles and the regimental spoon

Watercolour
about 1809 (Painted)
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Soup, the mainstay of the soldiers’ rations, had a great symbolic significance for the Janissaries. One legend claims that the order of Janissaries had been formed in the fourteenth century, with the blessing of the dervish Haci Bektas, and so the soup on which they dined together had an almost sacramental element. It was prepared in special copper cauldrons (kazan). If the worst happened, the soldiers would upturn their cauldrons and beat on them like drums as a signal of mutiny. The giant regimental spoon was equivalent to a standard in battle, and to lose it to the enemy was a sign of disgrace. Each Janissary had his personal spoon (kasik), which was carried in a special spoon container (kasiklik) on the front of his ceremonial headdress.
This picture was one of a series commissioned by Stratford Canning (later Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe), 1786-1880. He began his long diplomatic career in Turkey as first secretary to Robert Adair on his mission to Istanbul in 1808. On arrival Canning soon arranged to see officially (and unofficially) all manner of Ottoman institutions, buildings and customs. What made his curiosity really valuable is that he hired a local artist to make this large series of views and studies of what he had seen. The identity of the artist is unknown, though Turkish scholars believe that he was part of the studio or circle of Konstantin Kapidagli. His style combines the dense and brilliant water and bodycolour used by Ottoman artists with European conventions of representation and perspective.
As a young man, the artist and future neo-classical architect Charles Cockerell went to Istanbul in 1810, stayed at the embassy, and even met Byron there. There Cockerell (with an interpreter) met and discussed painting technique with this Greek artist whom, frustratingly, he did not name in his letters. Cockerell's copies of the Greek's architectural views are now in the British Museum. The Victoria and Albert Museum finally acquired the original set of drawings from Canning's daughter Charlotte in 1895.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Water- and bodycolour
Brief Description
Janissaries with soup kettles and the regimental spoon, about 1809. Anonymous Greek artist
Physical Description
Two soldiers carrying two soup kettles on a pole slung between them, a man in front carrying a giant spoon, and a Janissary officer behind them
Dimensions
  • Height: 20.2cm
  • Width: 35.5cm
Marks and Inscriptions
Numbered 95
Object history
Originally the paintings in this series [D.23-150-1895] were bound in a volume. It was bought by the Museum in 1895 from `Miss Canning' [i.e. Charlotte Canning, daughter of Stratford Canning] for 10 Guineas.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Soup, the mainstay of the soldiers’ rations, had a great symbolic significance for the Janissaries. One legend claims that the order of Janissaries had been formed in the fourteenth century, with the blessing of the dervish Haci Bektas, and so the soup on which they dined together had an almost sacramental element. It was prepared in special copper cauldrons (kazan). If the worst happened, the soldiers would upturn their cauldrons and beat on them like drums as a signal of mutiny. The giant regimental spoon was equivalent to a standard in battle, and to lose it to the enemy was a sign of disgrace. Each Janissary had his personal spoon (kasik), which was carried in a special spoon container (kasiklik) on the front of his ceremonial headdress.

This picture was one of a series commissioned by Stratford Canning (later Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe), 1786-1880. He began his long diplomatic career in Turkey as first secretary to Robert Adair on his mission to Istanbul in 1808. On arrival Canning soon arranged to see officially (and unofficially) all manner of Ottoman institutions, buildings and customs. What made his curiosity really valuable is that he hired a local artist to make this large series of views and studies of what he had seen. The identity of the artist is unknown, though Turkish scholars believe that he was part of the studio or circle of Konstantin Kapidagli. His style combines the dense and brilliant water and bodycolour used by Ottoman artists with European conventions of representation and perspective.

As a young man, the artist and future neo-classical architect Charles Cockerell went to Istanbul in 1810, stayed at the embassy, and even met Byron there. There Cockerell (with an interpreter) met and discussed painting technique with this Greek artist whom, frustratingly, he did not name in his letters. Cockerell's copies of the Greek's architectural views are now in the British Museum. The Victoria and Albert Museum finally acquired the original set of drawings from Canning's daughter Charlotte in 1895.
Bibliographic References
  • Charles Newton `Stratford Canning's Pictures of Turkey', The V&A Album, Vol. 3, 1984, pp.76-83
  • Charles Newton `Images of the Ottoman Empire', 2007, illustrated on page 29
Collection
Accession Number
D.117-1895

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record createdJune 30, 2009
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