The colour always favoured by Eleanor was red, and the entrance to this exhibition devoted to her life and patronage, which has just closed at Palazzo Pitti, was hung with a sumptuous crimson curtain. Beyond it, the visitor was at once confronted by what at first glance seemed to be the most famous portrait of Eleanor and her son, by Bronzino, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a good replica made some 40 years later by a pupil, the little-known painter Lorenze Vaiani, or Lo Sciorina. He replaced the portrait of Eleanor’s son Giovanni with another son, Garzia. The significance of giving this work pride of place as an introduction to the exhibition is that it demonstrates how Eleanor’s image was often replicated to perpetuate her importance as a member of the Medici court.
Two Utens lunettes, from his famous series of paintings of the Medici villas around Florence, depict Poggio a Caiano (with its garden and extensive estate) where Eleanor was received on her arrival in the city, and which remained her favourite residence, as well as the place where she chose to rest before the birth of each of her eleven children. The lunette of the Boboli behind the Pitti reminds us of how much Eleanor did to create that famous garden, ten years after she had married Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1539. It was her immense wealth that enabled her to purchase Palazzo Pitti and the park behind it.
Eleanor’s family background was Spanish: on loan from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich came an imposing portrait of her father, Don Pedro de Toledo, Viceroy of Naples. Holding a long pilgrim’s staff, symbol of the Spanish military order of the Knights of Santiago, the portrait has been attributed to Titian. The beautiful marble statue of a young river god, by Pierino da Vinci (now in the Louvre), was a gift from Eleanor to her father. Many ancient Roman statues, often reworked or restored by 16th-century sculptors, were chosen to adorn the Boboli gardens. Alongisde these, there were a number of much less pretentious ones, recording ordinary farmers about their work. These were a particular feature of the gardens which were largely created by Eleanor, and a genre sculpture of a peasant emptying a small barrel (designed as a fountain), which was part of the exhibition and is now replaced in the gardens by a copy, is known to have been specially commissioned by her from Baccio Bandinelli (his was the design but not the execution). The peasant, dressed in his work clothes, has a very expressive face and he introduced an entirely new type of sculpture to populate Italian gardens, a type which was to remain a feature of all subsequent formal gardens of this kind.
In quite a different spirit, Bandinelli was also responsible for the pair of small bronze busts, very refined portraits of Eleanor and Cosimo. The couple are also depicted, with five of their children, in a precious little agate cameo made by Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi (displayed beside a drawing of it by Vasari from Christ Church, Oxford).
The most magnificent portraits of Eleanor and her husband, however, are those by Bronzino, and it is he who was inevitably the star of the show. His portraits are all still in Florence, including some very small portraits of the children, in oil on tin. He also possessed extraordinary skill as a draughtsman, producing studies for the chapel in Palazzo Vecchio which he painted for Eleanor.
It is known that Eleanor kept two weavers at her court and some very fine 16th-century tapestries survive.
Also part of the show were Eleanor’s exquisite little Book of Hours (now in the V&A in London) and a very small Deposition by Gérard David (1515–20), which is in the Uffizi but not normally on view and is thought to have been owned by Eleanor’s mother. Some of the most precious pieces of jewellery were fashioned by setting engraved Roman gems in gold mounts worked by Florentine jewellers. Two rings found in Eleonora’s tomb (opened in 1947) are Roman but refashioned by a Florentine craftsman, and almost certainly commissioned by Eleanor herself.
Also found in Eleanor’s tomb was a corset and pair of knitted stockings, both in her favourite red, apparently worn in her lifetime to keep her warm and taken with her to the tomb for the same purpose (she died of malaria in 1562). Displayed close by was an alarming steel corset which we are told she also wore on occasion.
The closing images were a pair of oval portraits of Eleanor and Cosimo, carved in maroon and green porphyry, an exceptionally hard rock occasionally used for imperial portraits in ancient Rome: these are certain to perpetuate for all time the couples’ remarkable lives.
Pietro Vannucci, the artist always known as Perugino, after Perugia, the chief city of his native Umbria, was born c. 1450. A superb new exhibition, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of his death in 1523, is currently on show at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria.
It was probably in Umbria that Perugino’s apprenticeship began and the exhibition begins with that background, with works by Benedetto Bonfigli (d. 1496) and Bartolomeo Caporali (d. before 1505), then considered the best artists of the Umbrian school. However, it was in Florence that Perugino reached his artistic maturity, in the workshop of Verrocchio—whose members included Botticelli and Leonardo. Looking at examples of the art of Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio and the Florentines, of which this show has several examples, it is clear how Perugino’s pictorial imagination was shaped. Altarpiece after altarpiece is populated with colourfully clad characters of somewhat ambiguous gender, standing in sinuous contrapposto, eyes rolling almost epileptically heavenwards.
Perugino’s reputation was made when, together with a group of Florentine painters, he was called to Rome in 1481 to produce works for St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel. As a result, some of the finest connoisseurs of the age, among them Lorenzo the Magnificent and Isabella d’Este, sought his services. He was described as “Italy’s finest maestro”; the colours of his palette were acknowledged to possess a special “sweetness”—a quality he is thought to have learned to convey from time spent in the lagoon light of Venice in the mid-1490s. The quality of his palette seems to suggest an everlasting sunny springtime.
Perugino, in his heyday, was formidable and prolific and maintained a large workshop. His self-portraits reveal a man of stocky, thickset appearance, probably capable of driving a hard bargain. He had no interest whatsoever in God, Vasari tells us, and an obsessive compulsion to make money. The star exhibit in this show is his Marriage of the Virgin, painted for the cathedral of Perugia in 1504. It hung there, in the Chapel of the Holy Ring, until 1797 when it was stolen by Napoleon. It is still in France, in Caen, but has returned to Umbria for this show. It contains many of the elements for which Perugino is distinctive: the serene and idealised backdrop; the rolling eyeballs; the outlandish headdresses; the rich colour blocks provided by the protagonists’ robes; the acute portrait studies in some of the faces.
But Perugino often overstretched himself. “Pietro always had so much to do,” Vasari tells us, “that he frequently repeated himself, and his theory of art led him so far that all his figures have the same air.” It is true. There are undeniable similarities between his Holy Ring and the Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, which he had painted for the Sistine Chapel in 1481–2. The Renaissance building in the centre, the enigmatic figures in the middle ground, the crowd at the front, the mountainous backdrop, the heavily stylised trees, the mixture of idealised, androgynous faces and contemporary portraits from life. It was the formula which had made him famous and he saw no reason to diverge from the tried and tested path. All of its elements can be found again in his Marriage of the Virgin.
Perugino, at his height, was very influential. The Marriage of the Virgin painted in the same year by Raphael is nothing short of a downright copy (though Raphael places his signature very prominently on the central building).
Raphael—Perugino’s greatest pupil— went on to far surpass his master, even though he predeceased him. Perugino, on the other hand, remained a painter of the 15th century, and as the 16th century wore on and revolutionary younger artists began to break the old moulds, he found that he could no longer get away with recycling past successes. Vasari tells a story about an altarpiece for the Annunziata in Florence, completed by Perugino after the death of Filippino Lippi. “But when this work was uncovered it was severely criticised by all the new artists, chiefly because Pietro had employed figures of which he had already made use. Even his friends declared but he had not taken pains, but had abandoned the good method of working, either from avarice or in order to save time. Pietro answered, ‘I have done the figures which you have formerly praised and which have given you great pleasure. If you are now dissatisfied and do not praise them, how can I help it?’” This was 1507, four years after Leonardo had painted his Mona Lisa and three since Michelangelo had sculpted his David. Perugino could not cling on forever to his spot at the top of Fortune’s wheel.
This show is clever, though, in that it ends on a high note. One skill that Perugino had that perhaps neither Michelangelo nor Raphael could ever equal was his gift at taking a keen and vivid likeness. In one of the last rooms of the exhibition are displayed a number of his portraits, many of them from the Uffizi. His own self-portrait is among them and there is something about the face that is instantly knowable. You feel you’ve seen this man. He might be the municipal carpark attendant or the man behind the fish counter in the supermarket. The waiter at the corner café. The man who came to fix the boiler. Back in Renaissance central Italy, he was the painter of softly serene altarpieces who didn’t believe in God.
Italy’s Best Maestro: Perugino and his Day, curated by Marco Pierini and Veruska Picchiarelli, runs until 11th June at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia.
Blue Guide Venice (ed. 10) is now in full colour, the first of a new look for the core series.
Since 1918, when the first Blue Guide appeared, the books have been through a number of redesigns but the quality of the text remains completely unchanged. The detailed focus on history, archaeology, architecture and art is exactly the same, the product of careful study and painstaking on-the-ground research. Now, though, all the maps, plans, illustrations and photographs are beautifully reproduced in colour – essential for presenting works of art, for showing the light and subtle shades of the lagoon, and for making maps that are easy to read and navigate.
Blue Guide Venice (ed. 10) is available in bookshops from March (UK) and May (US). As a taster, here a few sample pages from the new edition:
The UK-based Venice in Peril Fund is one of several international charities devoted to safeguarding the future of this unique city. Guy Elliott, Chairman of Venice in Peril, outlines some of its recent projects.
The Venice in Peril Fund was founded in 1971, succeeding an earlier fund instituted in 1966 in response to that year’s devastating floods. Today, more than 50 years later, Venice may be in even greater peril. Climate change is increasing the frequency of high tide occurrences, known as Acqua alta. These, as well as causing flooding, allow saline penetration of thebrick which lies above the hard Istrian stone foundations. In certain atmospheric conditions, these saline deposits crystallise, causing the mortar and brick to fragment. Rising sea levels will only accentuate this problem. Other factors, such as more turbulent water traffic and deteriorating air quality, also contribute to the degradation. Taken together these threats pose an existential threat to the city.
Over this long period, Venice in Peril has focused chiefly on the conservation of monuments, especially in stone, for example the Porta della Carta (Doge’s Palace) or the Loggetta around the campanile. But the charity has also conserved works of art and smaller projects ranging from a globe by Vincenzo Coronelli to 18 Goldoni puppets. Over 75 projects have been carried out using its funding alongside the City, Museum and Church authorities. At the same time the charity has aimed to broaden public understanding of the city’s challenges.
One of Venice in Peril’s most recently completed conservation projects isthe monument to Antonio Canova in the Frari church. Within it lies his heart. The rest of his remains—except for his right hand, which is in the Accademia Galleries—are at Possagno, his birthplace. The remarkable pyramid-shaped monument, built according to Canova’s design for a monument to Titian that was never executed, was inaugurated on the 200th anniversary of the great sculptor‘s death. British donors were prominent among those who financed its construction in the 1820s and Venice in Peril’s present supporters carry on the same proud tradition. The conservation project took ten years to complete and its challenges reflect all the environmental assaults described above. In addition, the problems of earlier conservation efforts (which followed best practice at the time) needed to be reversed. Major projects such as this provide training opportunities for young conservators as well as highlighting the harmful effects of neglecting maintenance, which is everywhere accorded low priority.
These same problems of Venice’s foundations being eaten away or suffering other environmental damage have been the focus of the charity in many other projects. One example is at the imposing Gothic church of Madonna del Orto in Cannaregio. Another is at the Basilica of Torcello, where recently the iconostasis was conserved. An ongoing project is at the Archivo de Stato, where following our earlier restorations of its main monumental doorway and its Baroque well-head, further interventions are planned to the archangels guarding the corners of this former cloister, once attached to the Frari.
The Italian authorities, despite many competing demands placed on them, are not altogether neglecting the challenges which Venice faces. The massive MOSE project, which consists of retractable floodgates built between the outermost islands of the lagoon, has been a welcome development—unfortunately not operational for the Acqua alta of 2019, the worst since 1966. The MOSE barriers were first raised in October 2020. On a smaller scale, a glass barrier has been put in place around San Marco, reflecting the basilica’s position as one of the lowest lying points in the city. Venice in Peril has likewise assisted San Nicolò dei Mendicoli with similar counter-measures, the latest after the 2019 flooding, in a series of interventions at the church made since the 1970s.
Venice’s challenges are not confined to the environment. As is well known, giant cruise liners have been controversial. Their enormous scale, dwarfing the city’s greatest monuments, caused much offence. Since 2021 ships over 25,000 tonnes are no longer permitted to sail up the Giudecca Canal or moor in the basin of San Marco. They instead take a different route to the port of Marghera on the mainland. While this diminishes the visual impact, nothing changes the disgorgement of very large numbers of passengers who make a negligible contribution to the city’s economy since they tend not to stay overnight. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, the city had 5.5 m overnight stays and 13 m overall visitors. The pandemic emptied Venice, but since 2022 tourism has resumed, with all that that entails.
The city’s overdependence on tourism has changed the housing rental sector. Many residents have quit the old city for the mainland, renting out their apartments, often in an unregulated manner. This undermines the formal hotel and pensione sector. It also accelerates depopulation. Venice’s present population, which has been consistently falling, is around 50,000 as against its peak of 175,000 in the early 1950s. This partly reflects the lack of employment prospects, especially for young people, except in the tourist sector.
As well as diverting the giant cruise liners, a daily levy has been introduced for day trippers. This innovation, like several others, has been controversial. But the scale of challenges that Venice faces requires considerable imagination. In many areas, solutions have proved elusive. Often, unpleasant choices need to be made in order to safeguard one of mankind’s most sublime achievements. This will not be the last such case.
Venice in Peril Fund offers a unique and worthwhile channel to those who love the city, enabling them to discover more about Venice while contributing to conservation that can encourage sustainability and assist economic renewal. The website www.veniceinperil.org gives details about past and present projects and enables donations to be made easily. Funds are always needed to keep pace with the seemingly inexhaustible list of endangered buildings, monuments, sculptures and works of art. The charity holds regular events for its supporters, and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.
Venice in Peril thanks the publishers of the excellent Blue Guide for again giving us space to explain our purpose and why it matters to those who love the city.
To be a sultan even for only twenty days is an achievement. Cem Sultan paid for it for the rest of his life. Here is his story.
Born the third son of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (the conqueror of Constantinople), Cem could style himself as ‘porphyrogenitus’, being born when his father was an emperor, unlike his two brothers Beyazıt and Mustafa (the latter of whom died soon after and is not part of the story). According to Ottoman tradition, princes were sent out to the provinces while still very young, to learn the ropes. Cem was made governor of Kastamonou at the tender age of five. He took up residence there with his mother, his tutor (his lala) and his court. Later he was promoted to Konya and it was there that he learned of the death of his father. Not yet fifty, Sultan Mehmet had probably died of exhaustion. Already a ruler at twelve, deposed at fourteen and reinstated at nineteen, he went on to conquer Constantinople two years later, embarking afterwards on non-stop wars of conquest in the Balkans and Anatolia. He literally had been burning the candle at both ends.
Mehmet left no arrangements for his succession, which may appear strange since he was well aware of the dangers of civil war. On his accession he had had his one baby brother drowned (or strangled—both methods acceptable as long as Muslim blood was not shed) ‘for the sake of public order’ and had the practice codified in law. The Turco-Mongol tradition leaves to God the choice of ruler from among the males of a specific bloodline. Anyone interfering would be subverting divine will, which equals heresy. But how does God manifest his choice? By granting favour (kut), i.e. the claimant who could maintain himself on the throne could claim divine support. The tradition did not recognise primogeniture of any other form of seniority.
After Mehmet’s death, it was Cem who won the first round. He got himself to Bursa, seized the treasury, minted coins in his own name and was Sultan for twenty days. This was as much time as Beyazıt needed to move from Amasya, where he was governor, gather his troops (the Jannissaries had declared for him) and beat Cem soundly at Yenişehir. Cem fled for his life with his immediate family, all the way to Egypt. While plotting further action, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca (the only Ottoman sultan to have done so) and proposed to Beyazıt that they split the empire. He would rule Anatolia while Beyazıt would control Rumelia, the European provinces. Beyazıt’s answer was unequivocal: absolute power could not be split. ‘Sultans do not have a family’ he said, setting the tone for future Ottoman autocracy.
One last attempt at seizing Konya ended in disaster and Cem had to flee again. This time he did not go to Egypt, where he had left his family, but to Rhodes, the piece of European soil within easiest reach. He was acquainted, moreover, with the local rulers, the Knights of St John, with whom he had been instrumental in negotiating a settlement after his father’s failed attempt to conquer the island. The Order of St John embodied a mixture of military, political, religious aspirations: assisting pilgrims to the Holy Land, checking the advance of the Turks, flying the flag of Catholic Christianity in the East. Cem calculated that the Grand Master of the Order, Pierre d’Aubusson, who lived in Rhodes, would be able to help him gather European support in his quest for justice, or at least a share of the Empire. At the same time, however, d’Aubusson was in touch with Beyazıt, who was geographically his near neighbour and with whom he had to find a modus vivendi. The result of the negotiations was that d’Aubusson would keep Cem well—and well out of the way—and in return the Sultan would maintain friendly relations with Rhodes and help with an annual contribution of 40,000 gold pieces towards Cem’s upkeep. It is difficult to put a modern figure on this sum of money, sometimes described as ducats or florins, but it was certainly a good deal, well in excess of Cem’s needs. There was enough left over to improve the fortifications of Rhodes and later to tempt the greed of a pope (see below).
Cem, on the other hand, had completely different ideas. He pictured himself at the head of a European coalition to stop the Turks—or at least one particular Turk, his brother. In this he intended to enlist the support of the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. One has to bear in mind that the Hungarian kingdom had historically reached far beyond the Danube and that it had felt Ottoman pressure right from the beginning. Cem was counting on d’Aubusson to help him make contact with the King of France, gain his support and ensure a safe passage to Hungary.
And so to France! Cem left Rhodes (without his family, who remained in Egypt) with a suite of forty or so ‘companions’; a concubine Almeida, constituting a harem of one; a number of Turkish slaves purchased at the thriving slave market in Rhodes; and an unspecified following of spies and agents sent on the orders of Venice, of the Sultan and of anyone else interested in this up-and-coming ‘hot property’. As a prince of Ottoman blood, pretender to the throne, Cem had become just that.
The passage to the French Mediterranean coast was uneventful, but Cem and his retinue could not land in Toulon because of plague. The company opted instead for Nice, then in the Duchy of Savoy. Here they were accommodated in the castle, on a rocky outcrop between the harbour and what is now the Promenade des Anglais. Cem spent his time waiting for things to happen and whiling away his time with a pet monkey who could play chess and a parrot who could recite suras of the Koran.
Things began to move again in 1483. The party progressed through Piedmont, crossing the Montcenis pass in winter, and arrived in Chamonix to meet the Duke of Savoy, a lad of just fourteen. There was still no sign of the French king, nor of his envoys, nor of the passport to Hungary. This was due not so much to lack of cooperation from the king as to the fact that he had not apparently been informed. D’Aubusson was clearly intending to keep his side of the bargain with Sultan Beyazıt, to keep Cem ‘well out of the way’, to all intents and purposes a prisoner. This was the reason behind the detour into Piedmont, where the knights could count on secure accommodation in their various commanderies (fortified buildings).
From Chamonix the way was due northwest, to d’Aubusson country, la France profonde, skirting the Grand Chartreuse massif into the Auvergne and beyond into the Creuse around Limoges. Accommodation was always in some form of defended outpost (Rochechinard, Monteil-au-Vicomte, Poët-Laval etc), which can still be identified though most are in a sorry state today. Along the way, romantic attachments with various châtelaines have entered local lore. And Cem was not the only male in his party. There were his companions as well as an unspecified number of Turkish slaves. Talk of large-scale DNA testing, searching for potential kinship links, has come to nothing so far.
In 1484 at Bourganeuf, 40km east of Limoges, Cem and his company were offered accommodation in a château at the centre of the fortified village belonging to d’Aubusson himself and where his sister was living at the time. On the pretext that the rooms were unsuitable, but in reality fearing kidnap or the flight of the prisoner, it was decided to build new, secure accommodation while housing Cem and company nearby. More removals, more disruptions. The building process took two years. There can be no doubt that the tower known locally as the Tour Zizim (apparently from Cem’s childhood nickname, or perhaps because the local people could not pronounce his name properly) was effectively a prison: a seven-storey building accessed via a walkway from another tower of the castle. The first opening was 10m off the ground. The tower can be visited. Inside, the seven floors connected by a central spiral staircase included (from the bottom): a cellar, kitchen and stores; the companions’ accommodation; Cem’s own apartment on two storeys, with his harem above it (still a one-person harem); guards on the top floor and more guards on the roof. Rumours of a hamam are unconfirmed. Here Cem stayed for two years and three months. Not so Almeida, who killed herself.
Meanwhile, in the outside world, things had moved on. When the King of Hungary died the focus of a crusade moved to Rome, to Pope Innocent VIII. Negotiations produced the expected result. D’Aubusson got his cardinal’s hat and relinquished Cem and his appanage, who were taken into custody by the pope. In the spring of 1489, Cem and his suite were moved to Rome where he was lodged in the Vatican, occupying the floor above the pope’s apartment in the Apostolic Palace, overlooking the Cortile del Pappagallo. From Mantegna’s correspondence (he was working in the Palazzo del Belvedere) we get an unflattering description of a moody, alien character.
Beyazıt then made a new arrangement with the pope. Not only would the sultan continue to pay the very generous pension, in exchange for which Cem would be ‘kept well and well out of the way’, but as a sweetener he added a relic, the metal point of the spear that had wounded the Saviour on the Cross. Istanbul was awash with relics and the Turks soon realised their bargaining power with the Christian West. Alas, this particular relic proved ineffective in dealing with Innocent’s health problems and he died in 1492. Even so, the item figures prominently in his left hand in his tomb monument by Antonio Pollaiolo, which can be admired in St Peter’s.
There is no evidence that Cem was free to come and go as he pleased in Rome, but perhaps it was more appealing than a prison-tower in the middle of nowhere in France. Mantegna’s testimony, though, may suggest bouts of depression.
When Innocent died, Cem graduated to a tighter regime during the conclave. He was still ‘hot property’ and was confined to a tower for the duration of the conclave. Worse was to come. The new pope was a Borgia, Alexander VI. He was determined to use Cem for his schemes, which included a crusade. It never materialised, partly because of disagreements among the perspective participants, chief among them Venice, who was to have supplied the vessels but was very unwilling to upset relationships with the Porte at a time when the Serenissima was trading happily with the infidels in spite of the papal prohibition.
In the meantime the French king, Charles VIII, had decided to act upon his claim to the throne of Naples and in 1494 crossed the Alps to claim his due. Cem this time ended up with the pope himself in Castel Sant’Angelo, the one-time mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian later turned into a fortress. In spite of his determination to hang on to his precious hostage, Pope Alexander had to surrender him to the French king, who also had the same ill-defined ambition of a crusade. It was a difficult time for the Borgias as they were short of money and Beyazıt’s subsidy was quite handy.
Cem just made it to Naples and died in Castel Capuano, at that time the residence of the King of Naples, who was currently in exile. This was a blow for the French king and his ambitions. In the end his mad cavalcade from Paris to Naples came to nothing and he went back home—though not empty-handed. In his train were 43 tons of booty: carpets, tapestries, books, marbles, furniture, the bronze doors of Castel Nuovo and even a set of stained-glass windows. Not all of it made it to France, notably the doors, one of which was used as a shield in a naval battle and was hit by a cannon ball that is still embedded in it. They were sent back to Naples where they can still be admired.
By 1498 the French king was dead and buried. Things were not so simple for Cem, who had died in February 1495 but had still not been buried in the way that Beyazıt wanted, i.e. with the actual body, very publicly in the Empire, to make sure that every citizen knew that the claimant to the throne was truly dead. The problem was twofold. First it was necessary to ensure that the body was really Cem’s. To that effect his two last companions were tasked to guard it day and night. They had already embalmed it, burying the entrails in the garden of Castel Capuano, and then wrapped it in an emergency shroud, in this case one of their turbans.
The lead coffin now awaited transport to Istanbul but that was not so easy. The last thing the Italians wanted to see were Turkish vessels cruising off their shores. The occupation of Otranto by Mehmet Fatih in 1480–81 was still fresh in everyone’s memory. In the end the transport was organised by the King of Naples: overland to Lecce, across the Adriatic to Valona and then by land to Istanbul. Cem was buried in 1499 with full honours in Bursa alongside his brother Mustafa. The surviving companions were rewarded. There is no mention of what became of the parrot and the monkey.
At 35 Cem had spent seven years and two months in France and six years and two months in Italy, in something very close to captivity in unfamiliar surroundings, away from his family and without advancing his cause an inch. If depression and frustration can kill, this would be a textbook case. The curse extended to his progeny. When Sultan Suleiman conquered Rhodes in 1522, he sought out Cem’s son Murat (now a Christian by the name of Niccolò) and had him killed. According to some he may have killed Murat’s son as well, unless the young man had already decamped to Malta, where the Knights of St John had moved. The curse of the Ottoman blood was apparently unforgiving.