The year 1834 saw the beginning of an extensive tour of Europe by the Danish artist Martinus Rørbye, which took him to Paris, Rome, Greece, and Turkey. His visits to Athens and Constantinople, as well as their environs were particularly significant, as he was the first Danish artist to visit these countries. The works from these regions received a great deal of notice and attention on his return to Copenhagen in 1837. After seeing an exhibition of his work in 1838, a critic working for Dansk Kunstblad said: 'Truly, the quantity and beauty of what his brush has elicited from nature are so great that one scarcely knows where to begin and where to end in order not to omit something splendid.' (K. Monrad, Danish Painting The Golden Age, London, 1984, p. 179).
Inspired by a constant desire for distant and exotic culture, Martinus Rørbye looked to the Orient to find inspiration, and the present work is a fine example of his singular observation of other cultures. Although, foreign in content, the painting remains firmly within the Danish artistic traditions of the period, as seen in the brilliant colouring and extreme precision to detail of the work. Rørbye was fascinated by Turkish costumes, as a letter, which he sent to the Academy, demonstrates his particular enthusiasm: 'No costumes can be more beautiful to an artist than the Turkish ones, for they unite the greatest stylistic purity with splendour' (quoted in B. von Folsach, By the Light of the Crescent Moon, Copenhagen, 1996, p. 50). His particular fascination is visible in the precision with which he painted the notary's shawl, a Termeh, particularly popular in Eighteenth Century Turkey.
Also remarkably precise is the representation of the carpet hung behind the figures of the foreground. This carpet, particularly rare, both in its age and design, is a northwest Persian medallion Carpet, possibly a Tabriz, dating from the sixteenth century. With its spiral arabesque field and strapwork border, the piece belongs to an important group of carpets, although this particular example appears unrecorded.
The high esteem in which this painting was held, is evident as it was already in the Prime Minister's personal collection before it was exhibited in Charlottenborg where it won the prestigious Thorvaldsen medal. A watercolour of the same subject and dated 'Rome 1836' is housed in the Kobberstiksamling, Statens Museum fur Kunst, in Copenhagen.