Inscribed in lower centre recto: Cyprus
A strange pencil drawing is inscribed ‘Cyprus’ and must have been executed around 1830-40. A black man in Turkish costume, barefoot but wearing a fez, with accentuated facial characteristics, thick lips and the protruding nose is cutting off an Orthodox priest’s beard. Seated on his throne, the priest is chubby, with a round belly and expressionless. He seems to be very short as his feet do not touch the floor. Beside him kneel several somber Ottoman dignitaries who appear to be watching the event in all seriousness. Traditionally, the shaving of a priest’s beard was regarded the ultimate punishment for a clergyman or the ultimate degradation that could be perpetrated on him by his enemies. This scene does not convey anything of the kind. There are no strong emotions on the faces of the people: it is rather as if the priest is just having his beard looked after by a barber, in which case, the presence of Turkish dignitaries at a lower level cannot be justified. However, to be able to witness such a scene, the artist must have been some sort of dignitary himself. On the left side of the drawing are two unrelated studies of figures: An effeminate young man on an astonished-looking mule with long pointed ears and awkward posture, and a sober looking dignitary with a tall fur hat. It is a puzzling drawing which is almost comical. Most probably, this satirical composition alludes to the disproportionate power which the Orthodox clergy enjoyed over local Ottoman dignitaries despite Christian subordination to the Porte.
22 x 33 cm
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