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ID number:  BIRRC-A0427
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  Campus Collection of Fine and Decorative Art
Artist / Maker:  Unknown
Title / Object name:  Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I
Object type:  Painting
Culture:  English, Early 17th century
Date made:  1600
Materials:  Oil on oak panel
Measurements:  113 x 87.6 cm
BIRRC-A0427.jpg

This portrait depicts Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Secretary and Ambassador for Muley Hamet (Ahmad Al-Mansur), ruler of Morocco, to Queen Elizabeth I. This portrait commemorates the visit of his embassy to London in 1600–1601. ‘Moorish’ was a term used by the Christian world to refer to North Africans, or more loosely to anyone of Arab or African descent.

A number of meetings were held between the ambassadorial party and Elizabeth I and her advisors to negotiate a trade and military alliance. This was predominantly an alliance against Spain but the ambassador also proposed the invasion of Ottoman Empire-held Algerian territories. However, the party departed with nothing definite agreed and both monarchs died within a few months of each other in 1603.

The ambassador and his party lived in a house on the Strand for around six months and would have caused quite a spectacle in early 17th century London. Contemporary commentators wrote of the interest and hostility that the group garnered during their stay, especially in regard to their dress and practices related to Islam.

The ambassador sat for this portrait during his time in London and it is thought to be the earliest surviving painting made in England that depicts a Muslim.

Inscriptions / Translations:  The inscriptions to the left indicate the date of the visit, the name of the sitter and his age, while his title is given to the right. Inscribed '1600 ABDULGUAHID. LEGATUS REGIS BARBARIAE IN ANGLIAM. AETATIS: 42'

Notes:  This portrait commemorates the visit of the King of Fez’s embassy to London in 1600-1. The sitter’s stance and clothing, as well as his prominent scimitar (curved sword), indicate his cultural and military prestige. During this time the embassy was publicly negotiating a trade agreement, but the real purpose of this visit was to form an offensive military allegiance against Catholic Spain.
The inscriptions to the left indicate the date of the visit, the name of the sitter and his age, while his title is given to the right. This painting marks a dynamic period of Anglo-Islamic exchange which encompassed artistic, diplomatic, religious and commercial spheres.
What does the ambassador’s gaze suggest about his status in England?
‘The first painting ever made in England of a Muslim … showed the Moroccan ambassador with a fierce and intimidating look.’ Nabil Matar Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery 1999

2 Related Media Items

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1 Related People

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