Exceedingly rare engraved wall map comissioned by the Sublime Porte

[Ottoman cartography]. Map of the Ottoman Boundaries.

Paris/Istanbul, ca. 1770.

Engraved map with original outline colour and manuscript calligraphy in red ink. With a fine inset plan of the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi in the upper right corner, as well as an ovoid title cartouche, both bordered by Neo-Classical Ottoman-inspired designs. On thick laid, watermarked paper. 60 x 140 cm.


Exceedingly rare engraved wall map comissioned by the Sublime Porte, brilliantly labelled and hand-coloured in Istanbul by court calligraphers. A masterpiece of cartography and Islamic calligraphy, the map presents the theatre of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74 in its earliest stages. Focussed on the southern Ukraine, it extends from the Mouths of the Danube, in the west, to the Caspian Sea, in the east, rendering the region as it was common before the Russian surveys of the 1770s. The Russo-Ottoman boundary, as it existed between 1739 and 1774, is clearly delineated, with the Ottoman lands outlined in green and Russian territories in yellow, whilst the Polish territories, in the northwest, are outlined in pink. Until the war, the Ottomans controlled Crimea and the southern Ukraine in their entirety, along with most of the Caucasus.

As the Ottoman Empire lacked publishing capabilities, the Porte often relied upon their ancient ally, France, to supply them with custom-printed material, conveyed to the Topkapi Palace via the French Embassy in Istanbul's Pera neighbourhood. The skeleton of the map, engraved in Paris, depicts topographic features and the locations of key cities and fortifications, but omits all text: all names of regions and major settlements were added in Turkey in luxurious red ink. The masterly penmanship would have been executed by a specialized imperial calligrapher: the rich, expensive red ink was reserved for sacred and high-level legal documents under the Sultan's patronage and was only very seldom applied to cartography, indicating that the present map would have been held in particular esteem by the Imperial Court.

A single other example of the map with the Topkapi calligrapher's manuscript work, executed in a similar fashion, survives in the Biblioteca Nacional de España (MR/42/415), very likely once a high-level diplomatic gift to Madrid from Sultan Mustafa III, anxious to improve his diplomatic and trading links with the Bourbons. In addition, a single blank example of the engraved map template is held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (CPL GE DD-2987, 3089 B), formerly in the collection of the famous cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville, who is known to have had privileged access to maps created for the French diplomatic corps.

Resplendent original calligraphy, several old tears professionally repaired without loss. An extremely rare survival in fine condition.

Biblioteca Nacional de España, MR/42/415. Elena Santiago Páez, La Historia en los mapas manuscritos de la Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid: Biblioteca Nacional, 1984), no. 336 (p. 266). Not in Özdemir, Ottoman Cartography (2008).