Gentile Bellini’s link with Albania in the XVth c. and George Kastrioti Skanderbeg

by Epidamn Zeqo

Thursday 8 June 2017 by en , E. Noygues

Epidamn Zeqo is native of Albania who lives and works in London. He holds an MSc in European Political Economy from the London School of Economics and a dual MA in International Relations and Modern History from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland).

His articlcle about Gentile Bellini’s link with Albania in the Fifteenth Century and George Kastrioti Skanderbeg has been originally published in the revue "New Eastern Europe", June 2017.

Did Bellini ever paint or sketch Skënderbeg ?

From it’s point of vue it’s more than conceivable that Bellini did indeed sketch Skënderbeg’s portrait, most probably in 1466 when Skënderbeg was in Venice. But, evidence remains indefinite, so public and private scientific research initiatives are needed to give a definitive answer to this hundred-year old myth.

Gentile Bellini travelled to Constantinople (Istanbul) between 1479–1480 by road, which would have taken him past Albania’s key port city Durrës, in September 1479. The reason for his trip to Istanbul ? With keen interest in legitimising himself amongst the royal European court, Sultan Mehmed II sent a Jewish diplomat to Venice to find “a good painter” (“un buon pittore”) to be brought back to Istanbul.


Why did Bellini draw these common Albanian men ?

Many Italian cities, especially Venice, attracted and hosted flourishing Albanian, Armenian, Greek, and other communities as people escaped the Ottoman invasion. Moreover, the only persistent threat to the Ottoman expansion in the Balkans from 1448 was the Albanian King, Skanderbeg, who preserved Albania’s independence until 1468. Therefore, Skanderbeg had become a modern day celebrity - proclaimed as the defender of Christianity.

This short lived independence was brutally extinguished in 1479 with the second siege of Shkodra, which was led by Sultan Mehmed II personally. Surely, the author of the Sultan’s famous portrait must have been aware of the Albanian crusade against the Turks. Perhaps he sought to immortalise his Albanian encounters, and present an image of Albanian men in the great era of Skanderbeg as sober, reflective and even distinguished.


Issue 3-4 (XXVII)/2017 :

The Balkan Carousel

copyright © 2011-2013 by Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego

New Eastern Europe Online Edition: ISSN 2084-400X

The whole article is pubished HERE


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