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Portrait of the Countess of Vergennes in Turkish Attire

Antoine de Favray

Oil on canvas 129 x 96 cm
Second half of the 18th Century

"Having been appointed to various posts in Portugal and Spain, French diplomat Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes (1719- 1787) arrived in Istanbul in 1755 as minister plenipotentiary and was soon made full ambassador, a post he held until he was recalled to France in 1768. During his mission, the role of France in the Ottoman State’s trade with the west increased; just as France had intended, the same year Gravier left Istanbul, the Ottomans reentered war with the increasingly strengthening Imperial Russia. A French military officer of Hungarian origin in the retinue of Vergennes, Baron de Tott contributed towards the renewal of the Ottoman army. Partly due to his diplomatic achievements in Sweden after he left Istanbul, Comte de Vergennes was appointed as foreign minister during the reign of King Louis XVI. He played an instrumental role in the American War of Independence with his policies in favor of the liberation process. Without seeking the king’s consent, Gravier had married Anette de Viviers (1730 – 1798), the widow of a merchant from Pera, after he lived with her for several years and fathered two children out of wedlock. This marriage is cited among the reasons that prompted Gravier’s recall to France.  Comte de Vergennes had taken French artist Antoine de Favray in his retinue upon the latter’s arrival in Istanbul in 1862; when he left Istanbul, he entrusted de Favray to the new French ambassador Saint Priest. Before he arrived in Istanbul, de Favray, a Knight himself, was recognized for his portraits of the Grand Master and knights of the Order of St John in Malta, as well as his depictions of Maltese women. Hijacked to Malta by mutinying Christian slaves, the Kaptan Paşa galley was bought by France upon the advice of Vergennes, who kept his country’s relations with the Ottoman Empire in regard, and was returned to the Ottomans. De Favray arrived in Istanbul aboard this vessel, painted an Istanbul panorama to commemorate this event, as well as the ambassador’s audience with Sultan Osman III, and made portraits of Comte and Comtesse de Vergennes in Turkish attire, whom the ambassador married shortly before he left Istanbul. The paintings stand out with the meticulous attention to detail in clothes and accessories. During the nine years he spent in Istanbul, de Favray first lived at the French Palace and later at the Russian Palace, executed portraits of individuals in the embassy circles, and painted genre scenes of Levantine women, as well as Istanbul panoramas from the hills of Pera. The countess has been depicted in a pose similar to that of her husband, Ambassador Charles Gravier, while sitting on a divan. The difference is that the Countess of Vergennes is looking directly towards the viewer. In both paintings the clothing and jewelry have been depicted in exquisite detail, the drawing has been rendered with great care and the artist has been very successful in reflecting the texture of materials like fur, cloth, pearls and gold.”