SOAS University of London


Court & Conquest Ottoman Origins & Design

for Handel's Tamerlano at the Glimmerglass Opera

A unique exhibition featuring sumptuous costumes designed by,
international theatrical designer, Judy Levin

January 24th, 2001 - March 23rd, 2001

Organised by Kent State University Museum, Kent, Ohio and AXA Gallery, New York

"True to the Baroque practice, the costumes by Judy Levin [are] magnificent, just what Handel's audiences would have imagined exotic Turks and Tatars wear." Anthony Tommasini, for The New York Times

Come to the Brunei Gallery (SOAS) to see an exhibition of "flowing gold-embroidered robes and costumes reminiscent of Scheherazade" and step into a world of Orientalism. Judy Levin's celebrated costumes for Jonathan Miller's 1995 much-acclaimed Glimmerglass Opera production (Cooperstown, New York) are juxtaposed with Islamic and European Orientalist works of art that inspired the costume designs, in a show reflecting the fascination with the vast historical tapestry of orientalist depictions. Extravagantly detailed in multiple layers of rich fabrics, the costumes evoke the 'Turkomania' which was so influential on styles in art, music, fashion and architecture in the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition offers a behind-the-scene opportunity - appealing to opera goers, designers, art students and the general public alike - to see the mechanism of the choices made by a contemporary designer faced with the task of designing for an opera composed in the 18th century, but set in the 15th.

The opera presents the story of the confrontation between the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Bayezid I and his grim Central Asian conqueror, the Tatar emperor Timur, known in the West as Tamerlane. Captivated by the exotic setting and its subjects, European artists created extensive visual and written interpretations of the exploits of Tamerlane and other aspects of the Middle East. Many of these paintings and writings served as sources for the costume designs of Tamerlano and are included in the exhibition. Judy Levin's work drew inspiration from Ottoman and Timurid manuscripts, miniatures, textiles, jewels, armour and a variety of objects borrowed from American and British collections. The sole European venue of this exhibition, the Brunei Gallery (SOAS), will exhibit some rare and highly valuable items including miniatures and the original Handel autograph of Tamerlano from the British Library, several items from the British Museum, arms and armour from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, miniatures and manuscripts from the Keir Collection, and 18th and 19th century prints from the Edward Binney 3rd Collection of Orientalist prints.

"Court and Conquest" is organised by the Kent State University Museum, and its Director, Jean Druesedow; the AXA Gallery (formerly the Equitable); curated by Dr Walter Denny, Professor of Islamic Art, University of Massachetts at Amherst and until recently Honorary Curator of Carpets and Textiles of the Harvard Art Museums, and is supported in part by the John P Murphy Foundation, Cleveland Ohio, and Kent State University.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly and fully illustrated catalogue, available at £15.00 which was nominated for the Gold Pen Award by the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology. It features essays by Walter Denny, Aileen Riberio of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Judy Levin, and Jean Druesedow.

Judy Levin received her training in set and costume design in London and Salzburg. Her collaborations with renowned director Jonathan Miller include The Rake's Progress at the Met, The Magic Flute for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Santa Fe Opera, The Coronation of Poppea for the Glimmerglass Opera at Cooperstown and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and a co-production of Idomeneo for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence and the Lausanne Opera. They will collaborate once again in June 2001 when the English Concert, under the baton of Trevor Pinnock will be staging Tamerlano using her costumes. For further information English Concert can be reached on 020 7911 0905. The production will open in Halle, Germany, then travel to Paris and finally be presented in London at the Sadler's Wells Theatre on June 27th, 2001 for three performances during the City of London Festival.

Sponsored by: John P. Murphy Foundation, Continental Airlines, Kent State University, and SOAS

The AXA Gallery is sponsored by AXA Financial, Inc. and its subsidiary the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.

For further information on exhibition details, please contact:

The Brunei Gallery (SOAS):

Tel: 020 7898 4046 - Recorded Information
Tel: 020 7898 4915 - Reception
Fax: 020 7898 4259

Specific press enquiries for this exhibition to Roxane Zand:
Tel: 0976 297 339; e-mail: