Portrait van sultan van Marokko

I was drawn to these two reproductions of the same picture, as the slight differences in detail create contrasting effects. Both portraits feature the same dress, props, and background. The sultan’s intricately embroidered doublet, alongside the gilded jewel on his turban, convey immense wealth and stature; the sword at his hip and scepter in his hand convey power. The background suggests a vast, open area to the sultan’s right and boxy pillars to his left: I imagine this was modeled at a palace with a wide balcony, or near a dock with buildings on one side and the open sea to the other.

Yet, the slight differences leave vastly different impressions of the great sultan upon the viewer. What caught my eye immediately was the difference in their eyes: while the sultan on the right looks outward, perhaps toward the open seas or the crowded streets his people walk, the sultan on the left seems to be looking directly down at the viewer. There is contempt in the eyes of the leftward sultan, whereas in the rightward sultan there is thoughtfulness. The other main distinction is in skin tone. It is obvious that the sultan on the left has a darker skin tone while the sultan on the right has a fairer skin tone. Looking at these two portraits side by side, I am left with the impression that the darker-skinned sultan is harsh and demanding, while the lighter-skinned sultan is fair and forward-thinking.

Why did Lommelin make these slight but critical changes? What was his intention behind them, and which came first? The answers to these questions could imply much about the character and ideals of Adrian Lommelin; yet, with the information we have, we are left only to wonder.


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