Hopfer’s engraving represents the Sultan Soliman I, known as ‘Suleyman the Magnificent’ throughout Europe, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until 1566. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire under Soliman’s rule became a source of envy, fear and fascination for Europeans, particularly after its invasion of eastern Hungary in 1526 in what became known as the Battle of Mohacs. The defeat of the kingdom led to the division of Hungary between the predominantly Muslim Ottoman Empire and Catholic Spanish rule.
Many Germans viewed the Turkish as enemies to Christianity and called for a Protestant defence against Islam, however these tensions were eased by trade agreements. Soliman’s Empire was simultaneously feared and revered.
The complex relationship between Turkey and Europe is exemplified in Hopfer’s engraving. The side profile of Soliman recalls the Ancient Greco-Roman tradition of medallion portraits of military leaders and emphasises Soliman’s power and leadership. Hopfer’s sharp, fine outlines give the portrait a refined aesthetic and the care taken to articulate the ripple of fabric of Soliman’s turban is particularly impressive.
What is most striking about this image is the scale of Soliman’s turban which takes up almost half of the composition. This emphasis on what was considered an exotic item of clothing to western Europeans reinforces the idea that the Turkish people were ‘other’. Hopfer has displayed Soliman as a figure of admiration as well as distrust during these uncertain times.