English engagement with near eastern culture in the seventeenth century was often expressed through a fascination with Ottoman customs and costume. Knowledge of dress was fostered through travel and the circulation of prints such as the Recueil de divers portraits des principales dames de la Porte du Grand Turc (1645-8) by Nicholas Cochin after Georges de La Chapelle, and Cesare Vecellio's book of costumes, Habiti Antichi et Moderni (Venice 1661). John Greenhill's 1663 pastel portrait of the actor Thomas Betterton in the character of Solimano in Matthew Lock's opera The Siege of Rhodes, now at Kingston Lacy, demonstrates both the potential of Turquerie for vivid characterisation both on stage and in portraiture.
Among the few images of Ottoman woman known in seventeenth-century England was the portrait of Cameria, Princess Mihrimah Sultan, a daughter of the sixteenth-century ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. She was the most powerful princess in Ottoman history becoming her father's chief adviser. Cameria's portrait after a lost original by Titian was known through copies such as the seventeenth-century example now at Lacock Abbey and a 1569 engraving within a series of leading members of ruling families from Europe and beyond, Imagines quorundam principum et illustrium virorum, which was published in Venice. Our chalk drawing may well be a freely copied version of Cameria's portrait; small differences in posture and costume between it and versions currently identified may be accounted for by the fact that variations occur also among the established versions of Titian's painting. Although Cameria’s image may merely have been used as a model for a contemporary portrait, perhaps for an actress en role, as in Greenhill’s portrait of Thomas Betterton.
Given the frequent traffic between England and Venice, the portrait may have been drawn in Italy by one of Lely's pupils or associates. It is clearly drawn with knowledge of the crayon portraiture that Lely made his own, in which only the face was fully coloured, and Lely’s collectors stamp confirms that it was in his collection. Roger North, Lely's executor, stamped Lely's drawings in preparation for their sale in 1688, but very few of Lely's preparatory drawings for oil portraits were included, nor were his chalk portraits taken from life; these were sold separately. The presence of Lely's stamp on our drawing, therefore, lends weight to the idea that it had a status distinct from Lely's portrait studio.