“Guests from the East”: The Shifting Image of the Turk in the Habsburg Empire, 1790s to 1870s

Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
A.J.M. Wheatcroft , City University London
Research on the image of the Ottomans - ‘hereditary enemies of the Habsburg lands’ - has focused on the period before 1800. This paper suggests that after 1800 the public image became as stereotypical as the ‘Erbfeind’ view but with a radically different perspective. The new public image did not displace earlier preconceptions, but transferred  them to the margins.

The engravings of Hieronymus Löschenkohl in 1788-9 were the last in the old style, just before the Ottoman threat was displaced by the menace  of revolutionary France. By 1840 the Ottoman empire had transmuted from the external enemy to a junior partner in the international system. Post-1867, Austria-Hungary embraced Ami Boué’s vision of Austria as the natural economic power south of the Danube.

The Ottomans welcomed engagement with Austria-Hungary: in 1867 Sultan Abdulaziz visited Vienna, and Franz Joseph reciprocated with a journey  to Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Cairo; the Ottoman Empire exhibited at the 1873 Vienna World Fair as “guests from the East”. In Austrian eyes, the ultimate logic became the protectorate over Bosnia -Herzegovina after 1878, in a modernising mission to succeed where the Ottomans had failed.

What now were the images of the East? More varied, certainly, serving different markets and audiences. Orientalist painting and prints were centred on the old standbys of cruelty and eroticism; satire, in rococo images mocked be-turbaned sultans and odalisques. The flourishing satirical magazines of Vienna and Budapest lampooned the impaired modernity of Turkish reform, delighting in its failures.

The visceral antagonism of the Austrian ‘Erbfeind’ images re-emerged but now their focus had shifted. Once the enemy was Muslim, but now all the Christian peoples of the Balkans were implicitly “savages” threatening Austria’s destiny in the east. Here, finally, was the underlying menace that impelled Austria’s ‘preventive war’ in 1914.

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