Library Catalog

Liber amicorum / Prack von Asch
This liber amicorum ("book of friends") was compiled by Johann Joachim Prack von Asch, a military attaché of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II's embassy to the Ottoman court at Constantinople. Containing entries spanning from 1587 to 1612 that parallel the so-called Long War, or Thirteen Years' War (1593–1606), between the Holy Roman Empire and Ottoman Islam, the book was primarily penned in Istanbul and neighboring Bohemian regions traversed by Prack during his diplomatic travels.

Contents include allegorical, emblematic, and armorial paintings, poetry and mottoes written in calligraphy, and figural watercolors based on Ottoman miniature paintings, which were ubiquitous in the bazaars of Istanbul in the late 16th to early 17th century. The array of Ottoman decorative papers in the manuscript presents a far wider range of Islamic papermaking art than can be found in any contemporary European liber amicorum. The manuscript records the hybrid visual culture at the "Sublime Porte," as Istanbul, the seat of government of the Ottoman Empire, was commonly called by Europeans. It also documents the identities of those who inscribed Prack's album, providing unique testimony to the vast social network in which the European political theater operated in its furtively shifting alliances and diplomatic intrigues within the power base of Ottoman Islam.

Of historical interest, the papers in the album were almost certainly purchased from the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul, which was the original site of the ancient Chartoprateia, or paper market, of Constantinople.

This liber amicorum was on view at ESMoA from June 8–September 21, 2014, alongside another rare book from a similar genre, a 17th-century liber amicorum and a 21st-century artistic reinterpretation known as the LA Liber Amicorum. The exhibition, SCRATCH, presented the LA Liber Amicorum, the two historical examples, and a full-gallery "open black book" installation curated by local graffiti artists.