“A spectacle which would make a hundred painters drop their brushes in astonishment”: In the "Hamam" with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Edmondo de Amicis, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Daniel Chodowiecki
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a British aristocrat sojourning across Europe in the 18th cen-tury, continues to captivate generations of readers and scholars alike. At once an emblem of the British imperial and colonial apparatus at the height of its powers, and an antithesis of the ideals and convictions of her times, with her Turkish Embassy Letters she has earned herself a secured place both within the tradition of travel writing, and in the broader realm of intercultural encounters.
In the present article I offer a reading of Lady Mary’s Turkish exploits from the perspective of a dialogue inter artes. Through investigations of literary and artistic works by Edmondo de Amicis, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Daniel Chodowiecki, I intend to bring to light a range of responses to Lady Mary, explicit and indirect, in which her Turkish Embassy Letters functions as a reference point, and she herself assumes the role of a “ghostly” presence tangible in the fabrics of the analysed texts of culture. Employing a backward movement, or reverse chronology, in the exploration of the selected works, I endeavour to explore the instances of peculiar dialogues enacted between various texts, regardless of temporal, spatial or social spaces separating them, with the view to unravelling the projections and conjectures at work in the gradual construction of the mutual self-image of West vis-à-vis East and vice versa.