In 1571, the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the Battle of Lepanto, ending its expansion in Europe. At that point, the sultan decided to concentrate on diplomacy and communication with Europe. Nobody could predict this collaboration would bring such historically influential changes in these two areas of the world. In Europe, people became fanatical about the turquerie fashion that was introduced to Europe. This fascination had a significant impact, such as redefining social classes, inaugurating a new industrial field of turquerie fashion, and influencing Americans’ taste on fashion.
In fifteenth century Europe, birth defined one’s class and social status. The strict and detailed laws separated people into different classes. Fashion visually symbolized class difference. As Patricia Anwalt demonstrates, “As a visual symbol and display of position and wealth, elaborate clothing served most effectively to trumpet social status”.[ Anwalt, Patricia. “Costume and control: Aztec Sumptuary Laws.” Archaeology 33, no. 1 (1980):33-43.] When silk from China and India came to Europe, Europeans had the first chances to see these textiles and felt intensely attracted to the new garment. Eventually, when the desire for these textiles grew out of upper class’s control, effectually “class” was redefined. Beverly Lemire and Giorgio Riello suggest that “Wealth, rather than birth, structured the societies in the most dynamic urban centres in Europe– Venice, Genoa, Florence– and in response to new articulations of dress and domestic accountrements came renewed legislative interventions”.[ Lemire and Riello. “East and West: Textiles and Fashion in Early Modern Europe.” Oxford University Press. 889-890] Although sumptuary laws were made later, people’s craze of the new fashion coerced the government to revise the regulations, which reflected the failure of European traditionalism.[ Ibid]
Later, Indian cotton textiles were introduced to Europe, and similar to silk, a similar maniac ensued. The arrival of cotton also brought opportunities for a new textile industrial advancement. However, Europeans could not match Asian manufactures. For example, unlike Asian manufactures, as in calico printing, Europeans could not produce long-lasting colors. They could not produce the vivid botanical prints due to the lack of techniques either. Nonetheless, European’s love for these new textiles initiated the spread of textile manufactural industries in several European cities like Marseilles. As Beverly Lemire and Giorgio Riello state, “The texitle printing trade began in Prague from 1767 and twenty years later 12 firms employed more than 1,000 men with 314 printing tables”[ Ibid] (Figure 1). Additionally, Europeans expanded the industries not only quantitatively but qualitatively. By the early eighteenth century, masteral techniques, such as the copper plates and the rotary printing machine were invented.[ Lemire and Riello. “East and West: Textiles and Fashion in Early Modern Europe.” Oxford University Press. 903]
“Joseph Gabriel Maria Rossetti, The paintresses’ room at the Wetter printworks in Orange, France, 1764. Musee Municipal d’ Orange.
This figure shows the print shop that Rodolphe Wetter set up in Marserilles. It is represents the growth of print shops in some European cities. By the end of 18th century, the textile industry reached enormous size throughout Europe.”
In the 1770s, turquerie moved to America and triggered a new movement called orientalism, which according to Edward Said is “a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different world”. [ Isabel, Breskin. “On the Periphery of a Greater World”: John Singleton Copley’s “Turquerie” Portraits. Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 36, No. 2/3 (Summer – Autumn, 2001), pp97-123] This identification gave new meanings to relationships and the roles of men and women.[ Ibid] In eighteenth century Europe, harem for men symbolized the “ability of the pariarchal order to control women”.[ Ibid] These oriental costumes wore by women allowed men to see these women to sexual objects and assert men’s power over women.Women were reduced to mere appendages of men; the social status of women were directly related to their husbands’ social status.[ Ibid] Furthermore, once a woman got married, her political statue or financial possession would all became her husband’s.[ Ibid] Ironically, women also played with turquerie to suggest their own authority. For example, Madame De Pompadour, a mistress and adviser to Louis XV of France, was not only politically influential but famous for her taste in arts and science. In paintings, to show her authority and power, she preferred to dress up in turquerie.
Madame de Pompadour portrayed as a Turkish lady in 1747 by Charles André van Loo
Madame de Pompadour was dressing in turquerie. A dark skinned slave is serving her coffee. The difference of their status emphasizes Pompadour’s power. Their direct gaze shows that authorities were open-minded at that time.
John Singleton Copley, Mrs. Thomas Gage, 1771. Oil on canvas; H. 50’’, W. 40’’ (Timkin Museum of Art, San Diego, Putnam Foundation.)
Mrs. Gage was wearing turquerie and sat really casually on a couch. She was looking in distance which created the feeling of the lack of self-consciousness.
John Singleton Copley, General Thomas Gage, ca. 1768. Oil on canvas, mounted on masonite; H. 50’’, W. 39 3/4’’. (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.)
In this portrait, Mr. Gage was pictured as a general. His finger was pointing far away, like he was attempting to go there and fight. This portrait shows that for men, portraits usually related to their identities.
Due to the American’s growing sense of patriotism before the American Revolution, some American women boycotted Eastern fashion by wearing homespun clothing. As Isabel Breskin states, “anti-British protesters organized boycotts of English goods to challenge trade and taxation policies”.[ Ibid] There were serious consequence if someone did not follow these public rules in their dress. For instance, Breskin says that “those who are not zealously infected with the general frenzy are considered as enemies to the cause of liberty, and without regard to peculiarity of situation are branded with opprobrious appellations and pointed out as victims to public sentiment”.[ Ibid] However, in most of John Singleton Copley’s portraits like figure 3, Mrs. Thomas Gage is in a relaxing posture wearing a turquerie costume. Breskin describes her outfit as “The salmon-color dress, trimmed in gold, opens in the front to reveal a white underskirt”.[ Ibid] Although most women did not wear turquerie clothes in public, they preferred to wear turquerie in portraits. However, men rarely wore turquerie. One explanation for this is that since men relied on clothing to show their professions and identities, turquerie, as the Eastern style of clothing would degrade themselves in portraits. In the opposite, women “could take on allegorical roles that were related only indirectly, sometimes even indirect to their identities”.[ Ibid] In other words, portraits, as symbols of identities, reflected the identities of men, but did not have direct relations to the social status of women.
The collision of Western and Eastern cultures had great impact in fashion history. The power of men and women was expressed in a new way because of turquerie. Upper classes were forced to revise the sumptuary laws on Eastern fabrics but failed to pose too much brunt because of people’s craze on the new textile. Europeans developed industries and had economic boom that turquerie brought in. While Americans started boycotting turquerie in public, women continued to wear turquerie in portraits. In these ways, Eastern fashion transferred into Western style and culture.
1 Anwalt, Patricia. “Costume and control: Aztec Sumptuary Laws.” Archaeology 33, no. 1 (1980):33-43.
2 Lemire and Riello. “East and West: Textiles and Fashion in Early Modern Europe.” Oxford University Press. 889-890
3Isabel, Breskin. “On the Periphery of a Greater World”: John Singleton Copley’s “Turquerie” Portraits. Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 36, No. 2/3 (Summer – Autumn, 2001),
Figure 1: Joseph Gabriel Maria Rossetti, The paintresses’ room at the Wetter printworks in Orange, France, 1764. Musee Municipal d’ Orange.
Figure 2: Figure 2: Madame de Pompadour portrayed as a Turkish lady in 1747 by Charles André van Loo
Figure 3: John Singleton Copley, Mrs. Thomas Gage, 1771. Oil on canvas; H. 50’’, W. 40’’.
Figure 4: John Singleton Copley, General Thomas Gage, ca. 1768. Oil on canvas, mounted on masonite; H. 50’’, W. 39 3/4’’. (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.)