Eyes Eastward

Balkans and Eastern Europe in the Early Modern period.

The Power of pictures. The British Museum’s prints and drawings as a source to study the Eastern Question

Did you know that the British Museum holds a wonderful collection of prints and drawings? Probably no, but you thought it is likely to be so. But did you know you can access and use it? And, what is really important, did you know it is free and accessible even if you live in the other side of the world (unless you have commercial purposes)?
Well, keep calm. First of all, what is this collection about.
The website of the museum states: “The Department of Prints and Drawings contains the national collection of Western prints and drawings […] It is one of the top three collections of its kind in the world. There are approximately 50,000 drawings and over two million prints dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century up to the present day.”
The collection is really remarkable and there are items made by important artists like Michelangelo, Dürer and Goya. It is a wonderful source to retrieve great pictures, prints and drawings belonging to one of the most prestigious cultural institutions.
It is quite easy to search the images you would like to obtain. You just need to access the page of the department of Prints and Drawings and type on the search bar what you are looking for. The website will show you the results and clicking on the picture you are interested in, you’ll see it with all its information (year of production and a thorough description of what’s in the item).
You can save the picture simply using your mouse (right button, “save image as…”) or, if you wish a more detailed picture, just access the free image service which will deliver the image to your email, after a very quick, safe, and free registration.
Terms of use and further information are here.
It is an extremely interesting tool for my research and it is helping me very much. In a first moment I thought it was a cool way to make more visually appealing the contents of this blog and of my papers.
While selecting the images, I realised they were much more worthy, because they were able to condense in a picture what normally needs chapters and “rivers of ink” (sorry, this is a very Italian phrase) to be explained.
The images I am looking for are about the Eastern Question and I found many related items. There many samples of a vast satirical production of the 18th and 19th centuries in England about this subject, much higher than I expected. Nevertheless, if I think of the British trade and political interests in the Levant and the Mediterranean in that time, all makes perfect sense. The image below is an example. More details about it, clicking here.
Another country which produced many images was France, I am particularly interested on the Napoleonic age. This allegory below, produced in 1801, conveys a strong political message, where the Corsican General (at that time First Consul) presents himself as the peace-maker of the Mediterranean. He is able to gather together the Pope and the Sultan, the (just defeated) Austrian Emperor and the King of Prussia, the sovereigns of Spain and Russia. Even George III is rushing to join this unlikely club, which gathered to praise Napoleon.
The future emperor played an important role in the following years in the Mediterranean and in the Eastern Europe.

This wide accessibility and richness of contents led me to rethink the way I am approaching this collection. In fact, I have started to gather all the images I can find about the Eastern Question, in order to use them not as an accessory, but as a primary source of research. My goal is to build on these images a project which aims to narrate the story and the development of the struggle for Ottoman Europe in the age I study. I know I am not inventing anything, but this idea boosts my curiosity and opens up a new perspective and I also believe it perfectly complements the archival and bibliographical research on the subject.

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