The Captive Sultan

Franciszek Tepa,

Franciszek Tepa, “Marcos Botsaris Captive Sultan Mahmud II of Kapernisi, August 8, 1823″, 1852. Watercolour, oil, varnish on Bristol board. MNW inv. Rys.Pol. 4692.

The war fought by the Greeks to shake off the Turkish yoke was closely observed around Europe and, this being the era of romanticism, the events taking place around Greece between 1821 and 1832 became a symbol for national liberation struggle. Themes of this general sort were taken up in literature by the likes of Pushkin, Müller, Hölderlin, Hugo, Byron, and Shelley or, for the Poles, by Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński, Goszczyński, Morawski, or Rzewuski. As far as the visual arts are concerned, meanwhile, scenes from the Greek insurrection against the Ottomans were painted by Constantin Guys, Alexandre Gabriel Decamps, Prosper Marilhat, Ary Scheffer, and Eugène Delacroix. The Polish painter January Suchodolski distinguished himself with the striking Turkish Ship Burned by the Greeks (1839). One of Franciszek Tepa’s earliest historical compositions, meanwhile, depicted the spectacular victory at Karpenisi won by the small Greek detachment led by Marcos Botsaris (actually Marco Bozzari, 1788-1823) over an army of some 13,000 Turks commanded by sultan Mahmud II himself. Tepa depicted the moment in which Botsaris is riding triumphantly among the remains of the vanquished Turkish army, approaching the sultan, who is somewhat surprised at this awkward turn of events.

The previous literature has variously identified this painting as The Uprising in Macedonia, The Uprising in Bosnia, or Botsaris at Tripolis. The thorough familiarity with the realities of the Greek-Turkish wars –the topography, the costumes, and the facial features of the historic individuals shown– displayed by the young painter probably owes quite a lot to Tepa’s conscientious study of the paintings of Peter von Hess.

Tepa reprised the theme of Botsaris on two more occasions, painting two portraits of him –in watercolours and in oils– which he showed in Warsaw (1858) and in Krakow (1860). He also provided testimony to his heartfelt interest in the independence struggle of the Greeks in the form of his Self-Portrait in Greek Costume, a small watercolour dated at 30 July 1852 (now at the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow). Another Greek-themed piece by Tepa, The Fall of Missolunga, did not proceed beyond a sketch preserved at the Library of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Lviv; it is possible that Tepa abandoned work on this composition in order to take up the invitation to join a travelling party heading East.

Anna Rudzinska

Orientalism in Polish Art can be seen at Pera Museum between 24 October 2014 and 18 January 2015. 

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