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  3.18 One of Tipu Sultan's Ambassadors to Paris  

©Département des Sculptures,
Musée du Louvre, Paris
One of Tipu Sultan's Ambassadors to Paris, possibly Mohammed Osman Khan; 1788

65 x 40 x 25cm


he exotic appearance of Tipu's ambassadors attracted much interest in Paris in the summer of 1788. They were conspicuous in the audience at the Opéra, and large crowds accompanied them when they visited the Parc de St. Cloud. Deseine's bust is a more penetrating and powerful portrait of an Oriental. The sitter is possibly Mohammed Osman Khan, whose nephew also travelled with the ambassadors to Paris. The tentative identification of this bust, and of a companion portrait of a young man, is based on their similarity with a series of five small gouache portraits of Tipu's three ambassadors, the nephew of Mohammed Osman Khan and the son of Akbar Ali Khan. The original portraits were destroyed by fire in June 1940, but photographs of them survive in the Musée Historique de l'Orléanais. The ambassadors had arrived at Orleans on 11 October 1788, en route for Brest and the ship Thetis, which would convey them back to India.

A full-length oil portrait survives of a second ambassador, Mohammed Dervich Khan, painted by one of the most fashionable artists of the time, Mme Vigée Lebrun. Initially, the ambassador did not wish to sit for his portrait, and only the personal intervention of Louis XVI succeeded in overcoming the Muslim ambassador's sensibilities on this matter. Lebrun's portrait, emphasising Mohammed Dervich Khan's stature and the rich fabrics of his sash and jacket, was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1789. Deseine's portrait, completed a year earlier, makes little concession to the popular romantic interest in exoticism. His carefully observed portrait follows in the tradition of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle's splendid portrait (c.1760) of the Negro, Paul, and is one of the rare French 18 century sculptural portraits of 'Foreigners' or 'Exotics.'

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