Immigrant Narratives: The Ottoman Sultans’ Portraits in Elisabeth Leitner’s Family Photo Album, circa 1862–72

In: Muqarnas Online
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  • 1 Department of Art History, Hunter College, City University of New York


This article is a study of the family photo album of Elisabeth Leitner (ca. 1842?–1908), a Hungarian immigrant in the Ottoman empire. The album contains a complete set of cartes de visite portraits of the Ottoman sultans by the Abdullah Frères. As the only surviving example of such a collection with a known provenance, it provides a rare opportunity for understanding how such images were used in the context of identity formation and social mobility undertaken by a member of the immigrant population. The album, which has never been studied before, is also a fascinating source for investigating the history of Hungarian immigrants in the Ottoman empire who were displaced after the 1848 Revolution. The article approaches the intriguingly autobiographical album by means of a close reading of Elisabeth Leitner’s diaries and unfinished autobiography. My interpretation serves to dismantle notions of a carefree global cosmopolitanism and exposes a historiographical bias that privileges men and their collections of images and ethnographic artifacts over those of women. Elisabeth Leitner’s writings and photographic collection also represent a vast and entirely untapped resource for investigating cultural contacts between Europe and the Ottoman empire in the second half of the nineteenth century.

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