The two interiors depict different moments in the presentation ceremony of a foreign ambassador to the Ottoman court. The Ottoman court was a culture steeped in tradition and ceremony and the inner sanctum of the was restricted to most foreigners except those on official business. As a result, these events were often meticulously recorded by the artists who accompanied the visiting dignitaries' retinue.
In the first scene a European dignitary kneels before a grand vizier, a senior advisor to the sultan identified by his conical hat. Standing between them and wearing a black hat is the dragoman who acted as a translator between European and Turkish officials. Surrounding them are Janissaries, members of an elite corp of Ottoman infantry, and the rest of the European delegation. This audience took place before the ambassador met the Sultan and could involve the presentation of gifts which would be displayed beforehand to the court.
The second drawing records the audience between the Sultan and the European ambassador. The artist precisely depicts all the ceremonial roles and accessories. The audience takes place in the arzodasi, an audience chamber in the Sultan's private quarters. The Sultan sits on a broad canopied throne, beside which in a niche his turbans with jewelled aigrettes are displayed. The European ambassador is first given a kaftan to put over his Western garments which he is seen wearing in the drawing. After the gifts are inspected, the ambassador bows to the Sultan, makes a speech and presents his letter of credentials. The artist has depicted the moment where the ambassador's speech is being translated by the dragoman. The dragoman was also responsible for passing the ambassador's letter to the Sultan who would place it in his writing box, seen on his left.
Pictures of presentation ceremonies hold a particular place in European and Ottoman art. Often executed by European artists who were brought to Constantinople as part of an ambassador's retinue, they display an amalgam of Western and Eastern influences. More than a depiction of the exotic customs of a foreign country, these images were also meant to demonstrate the stature of the European dignitary through his access to the innermost sanctum of the Ottoman court. The consistency of these images is due not only to the endurance of the ceremonial tradition which changed very little over the course of five centuries, but also to a visual formula established by Jean-Baptiste Vanmour (1671-1737), a Flemish artist who spent nearly thirty years working in Constantinople recording the ceremonies of the Ottoman court as well as day to day life in the Ottoman world. He influenced a generation of European artists who worked in Constantinople producing images such as these for ambassadors and high-ranking dignitaries to display as a sign of their prominence.