London Art Week – “Eccentrics & Orientalists: The Lure of the East”

“Eccentrics & Orientalists: The Lure of the East”

2nd Floor – 15 Old Bond Street
London W1S 4AX
United Kingdom

“One of the most curious sights we saw amid these curiosities was the famous Mr. Montagu’, He had just arrived from the East, he had travelled through the Holy Land, Egypt, Armenia, &c. with the Old and New Testament in his hands, he had visited Mount Sinai, and flattered himself he had been on the very part of the rock where Moses spake face to face with God Almighty: his beard reached down to his breast, and the dress of his head was Armenian. He was in the most enthusiastick raptures with Arabia and the Arabs: his bed was the ground, his food rice, his beverage water, his luxury a pipe and coffee.”

Samuel Sharp, a grand tourist, 1767

 On the occasion of London Art Week, Summer 2023, Trinity Fine Art in partnership with Walter Padovani are proud to present “Eccentrics & Orientalists: The Lure of the East”.

The “East” as a source of fascination, a style and a concept for artistic as well as physical exploration has long held sway over the European imagination, from Marco Polo on the 14th century silk routes, the Bellini’s 16th century evocation of Alexandria, to the passion for “Chinoiserie” which held sway in the 18th century. However, it was Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798 which really ushered in an age of exploration and expansion which was mirrored in artistic trends in Europe at the time, most notably in Orientalist painting. Wealthy European collectors found much to admire in these Orientalist works, which provided them with a pleasurable frisson from the exoticism, luminous colours and perceived sensuality of these “farflung” lands, and a momentary escape from their modern urban lives.

The life and exploits of Edward Wortley Montagu, whose portrait by Pietro Longhi we are showing for LAW, could be considered one such example of the physical embodiment of this overriding fascination. He was one of the more eccentric and notorious personalities of the 18th century, whose hunger for travel led to him developing a passion for the Middle East and its languages, and eventually being fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Persian. He lived for a period in Egypt from where he undertook expeditions to Armenia, Sinai and Jerusalem and it was during these travels that he adopted Armenian dress considering it far superior to anything else and henceforth wore nothing else. Finally, after a great many escapades which included bigamy, gambling rackets and flights from the law, he eventually settled in Venice. In the Longhi portrait, Wortley Montagu is depicted accompanied by his son Massoud Fortunatus, as they were to be seen by Grand Tourists when father & son were viewed as an obligatory attraction in Venice and consequently put on a bit of a “floor show” for their guests. Massoud Fortunatus Montagu was born as a result of a passionate affair with a lady called Ayesha during his father’s lengthy stay in Cairo, and father and son shared a very close & touching relationship.  When he was old enough he travelled with his father to Italy and lived with him and reportedly looked after him during his final illness.