I have been doing research for Dracula Chronicles in Venice for some time. Readers have asked me what possible connection can there be between Vlad the Impaler and the Maritime Republic of Venice. The answer is that the connections were multiple and strong.

Venice was the dominant sea power in the Aegean Sea during much of Dracula’s life. As such, Venice served as a model for the Ottomans in their efforts to establish a navy of their own. Mehmed II, the Ottoman Sultan who was Vlad’s determined antagonist, sought to emulate Venice by constructing powerful war galleys. You will see in Book Five and Six of Dracula Chronicles how successful he was in this endeavor.

In addition to the military aspect of the Ottoman-Venetian connection, there was also a surprising artistic connection. In 1479, when Vlad’s whereabouts remained shrouded in mystery (the official version is that he died in 1476, but as you will discover in Book Nine, that might not have been the case) his archenemy, Mehmed, asked Venice to send him the best painter they had. Since Venice had just concluded peace with Mehmed, following a sixteen-year-long war, acceding to Mehmed’s request must have seemed like a wise decision. The painter chosen for the task was Gentile Bellini, who at that moment was the premier painter in Venice.

In Constantinople, which by then had become the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and would subsequently be known as Istanbul, Bellini proceded to paint Mehmed’s portrait and to cast a commemorative medal with the sultan’s image.

 

Mehmed II The Conqueror
                       The front of a medal by Gentile Bellini (executed in 1479-1480)

Mehmed II The Conqueror
                 The reverse of a medal by Gentile Bellini (executed in 1479-1480)

You might ask yourself, “what’s the big deal?” The problem was that most of the Islamic scholars at the time (the ulema, about which you’ve read a lot in the extant volumes of Dracula Chronicles) held that figurative art (which included both human and animal representations) went against the teachings of Prophet Mohamed. By going against this belief, Mehmed incurred enormous risks; and so did his chosen artist. You will learn in Book Nine what happened to Gentile Bellini and the portrait of Mehmed he painted. When one of my savvy readers from Singapore made a reference to a putative “Midnight Express” incident involving Gentile Bellini, he was not far off the mark. Most of the art produced by Bellini at Mehmed’s court has disappeared at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, led by Mehmed’s son and heir Beyazid II. The medal crafted by Bellini and his portrait of Mehmed have miraculously survived. A copy of the medal is in the possession of Ca’ D’oro Gallery in Venice (where I took the picture above); the portrait has somehow found its way to the United Kingdom.

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