Nicolas de Nicolay

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Donna Turca andando al bagno - Nicolay Nicolas De - 1580.jpg

Nicolas de Nicolay, Sieur d'Arfeville & de Belair, (1517–1583) of the Nicolay (family) was a French geographer.


Born at la Grave in Oisans, in the Dauphiné, he left France in 1542 to participate in the siege of Perpignan which was then held by Emperor Charles V of Austria.

In 1547 he sailed to Scotland where his intervention ended the siege of St Andrews Castle. In 1548 he returned to Scotland to take away Mary, Queen of Scots from Dumbarton Castle, sailing around the west coast of Ireland.[1] He travelled around Germany, Denmark, England, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey and served in the armies of most of these countries. On his return to France, Henry II made him Geographer Ordinary and Valet to the Chamber.

Around this time, he appears to have made a terrestrial globe that provided the model for the Oterschaden globe of c.1600.

In 1551, Henry II ordered him to follow Gabriel d'Aramon, envoy and ambassador to the Grand Turk Suleiman the Magnificent. In the course of the voyage, his unofficial mission was to survey the places visited, including Istanbul. It has been suggested that one of his objectives was to spy for the French crown.[2]

In 1583, he died in Soissons, where he was Commissioner of artillery, after a stay at the royal castle of Moulins.

Quatre premiers livres des navigations[edit]

Published in 1598, Quatre premiers livres des navigations (Travels in Turkey) recorded Nicolay's observations about the Ottoman court and peoples from his 1551 mission to Istanbul on behalf of the French government. The book served as the first comprehensive survey of customs and costumes in the Ottoman world, and is hailed as one of the earliest and most accurate depictions of the Islamic world to appear in Europe.[2] Travels in Turkey achieved a high level of commercial success upon its release. It was later reissued and translated for a number of different countries, including Italy, the Netherlands, England, and Germany.[3] The widespread popularity of the book contributed to the proliferation of costume books throughout Europe at the end of the 16th century, and continued to influence Orientalist artists well into the 19th century such as Eugene Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Travels in Turkey is divided in four books, following Nicolay's voyage to Istanbul, accounts of ethnic groups and Ottoman court life, and the religious and military administration in Istanbul. Louis Danet made 60 engravings based on Nicolay's original drawings, which serve as the core of the books, and each print is followed by a caption, describing Islamic ritual, religion and monuments. The images cover all aspects of Ottoman daily life, and depict figures ranging from sultans and sultanas to wrestlers, cooks and Janissary generals.[2] The images are typical of costume books, and consist of lone figures, depicted on a very sparse background, which emphasizes the dress of the figure, rather than geography. In the costume book, figures are schematized and follow general types, and Brafman writes that "Nicolay, or his engravers, render facial expressions in an exaggerated style. Emotional reaction are evoked artistically, whether it be identification with a mother, sympathy for a Christian slave, or fascination with exotic and 'monstrous' alien practice".[4]

Works and maps[edit]

Illustration from Le navigationi et viaggi nella Turchia, 1577

He wrote several books:


  • Voyage en Orient au XVIe siècle de Nicolas de Nicolay, Dauphinois, par Honoré Pallias, 1857. [1]
  • [2] Description du Berry et diocèse de Bourges au XVIe siècle par Nicolas de Nicolay Dauphinois, géographe et valet de chambre du roi Charles IX [...] avec une notice sur l'auteur par M. Victor Advielle, Paris, A. Aubry et Dumoulin, 1865.
  • R. Herve,"L'oeuvre cartographique de Nicolas de Nicolay et d'Antoine de Leval, 1544-1619", Bulletin de la Section de Géographie du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques (Paris), LXVIII (1955), 223-63.
  • Roger Hervé, L'Œuvre cartographique de Nicolas de Nicolay et d'Antoine de Laval (1544–1619), Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1956.
  • Franz Wawrik, “Der Erdglobus des Johannes Oterschaden”, Der Globusfreund, Nos.25-27, 1978, pp. 155–167.


  1. ^ E. Bonnar, 'The recovery of St. Andrews Castle in 1547, French diplomacy in the British Isles', in English Historical Review, (June 1996), 578–598
  2. ^ a b c Brafman, David (2009). "Facing East: The Western View of Islam in Nicolas de Nicolay's "Travels in Turkey"". Getty Research Journal. 1: 153–160.
  3. ^ Mukerji, Chandra (2013). "Costume and Character in the Ottoman Empire: Dress as Social Agent in Nicolay's Navigations". Early modern things: objects and their histories, 1500-1800: 151–169.
  4. ^ Brafman, David (2009). "Facing East: The Western View of Islam in Nicolas de Nicolay's "Travels in Turkey"". Getty Research Journal. 1: 158.