113. The First European Representations of Mecca/Medina

by Sir John Chardin

1664–1680 AD
Size: 30.2 × 23 cm; 28.3 × 25.7 cm
Ink drawing on paper

Chardin was born into a Protestant family in Paris in 1643, son of a wealthy jeweller who gave him a good education and a training in the jewellery trade. In 1664 he set off for the Middle East and spent eleven years travelling, visiting Persia, Turkey, India and Georgia. In Persia he was appointed Royal Merchant by the Safavid Shah Abbas II, and by his successor Shah Suleiman I. His written account of his travels, Voyages en Perse et Autres Lieux de l’Orient, first published in 1686, remains a uniquely informative document of the period, still in print to this day. King Charles II appointed him jeweller to the royal court and knighted him, and he was elected to the Royal Society in 1682.

Chardin made this drawing according to information given him by a Muslim he met in the course of his travels who had been on the Hajj. In some respects it is quite accurate – the colonnade, the Ka’aba, the buildings and minarets – but also noticeably inaccurate in showing a circular shrine, and even more so in placing the Prophet’s tomb in the Ka’aba, putting together the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina into one. It is, nevertheless, the first known attempt to represent the Holy Sites of Islam by a European. At the top of the complete diagram, Chardin has written: Plan de la meque et lieu ou est enterre le faux profete y avant deux cours celle de dehors qui est fort grande et celle de lieu est la Sepulture de Mahomet et les os a l’entrée de Chascune y a quatre portes. The second diagram is unfinished, probably a copy to be donated to the Royal Society.

John Evelyn was a remarkable polymath of the 17th century, whose famous Diary remains an important historical source of the time. One of the founders of the Royal Society, and colleague of all the great scientists, artists, writers and architects who prefigured the Enlightenment, he was insatiably curious, and the arrival of Jean Chardin in 1680 at the end of his travels provided an irresistible opportunity to acquaint himself with the mysterious Orient. There is no mention of exactly when and how he acquired Chardin’s drawings, but his Diary attests to the friendship that developed between them, once Chardin settled in London to avoid the persecution of Protestants under Louis XIV.

Excerpts from John Evelyn’s Diary:

Evelyn met Chardin for the first time on August 27th, 1680. ‘I went to visit a French Stranger, one Monsieur Jardine [Chardin]…who having ben thrice at the East Indies, Persia & other remote Countries, came hither in our returne ships from those parts; and it being reported he was a very curious man, & knowing, I was desir’d by the Ro: Society in their name, to salute him, and to let him know how glad they should be to receive him, if he pleased to do them that honour:&c. There were appointed to accompany me Sir Jo: Hoskins & Sir Christopher Wren &c. We found him at his lodgings, in his Eastern habite, a very handsom person, modest, & a well-bred man: It seems he travelled in search of jewels, & was become extremely rich: He spake Latine, understood the Greeks, Arabic and Persian by 11 years of Conversation in those parts, yet seemed he not to be above 36 years of age.’

Evelyn was very impressed by this first meeting, and fascinated by what he heard from Chardin of his travels. Chardin was leaving next morning for Paris, but since his baggage was still on the ship, including ‘the draughts he had caused to be made… he was extreamely sorry he could not gratifie the curiosity of the Society.’ He promised to return soon. Although he did not say so to Evelyn, he felt obliged to first present himself and the fruits of his travels to his King, Louis XIV. He had no intention of staying in France because of the persecution of Protestants.

The next meeting recorded in the Diary took place on October 10th, 1683, when they visited Montague House together, with Lord Grafton and Lady Scroope. The following year, February 10th, Evelyn took Chardin to dine ‘at my L. Keepers… who shewed him his accurate draughts of his travels in Persia &c.’

December 27th, 1683: Evelyn visited Chardin who was working on an account of his travels.

October 6th, 1688: ‘I was Godfather to sir Jo: Chartins sonn (the great French Traveller), with the Earle of Bath, and the Countess of Carlile.’

May 18th, 1705: Evelyn went to see Chardin at Turnham Green, and admired the gardens.

Provenance: The Library of John Evelyn, dispersed at auction by Christie’s, London, in eight sales, 1977–8.