Zanbar - Austria, 1770
The origins of this painting have been most troublesome to verify as it has been added to fifteen times in its long history and now resembles an entirely different painting indeed. The original underpainting shows Zanbar sat at a table with a chessboard; his right hand is holding a white knight and the left holds a long unknown object. In the background is what looks like a highly decorated palace all of which reminds me of a sensation of the 18th century -The Turk.
A fabled chess playing automaton The Turk was first presented to a stunned audience at Schönbrunn Palace, Austria where it beat opponent after opponent. Early accounts of The Turk describe a life-sized model of human head and torso with black beard and the dress of an oriental sorcerer. Its left arm held a long Turkish smoking pipe whilst it’s right arm lay on the top of a large cabinet nearly four feet long containing three doors, an opening and a drawer in which the chess set was stored.
Opponents approached The Turk and proceeded to play chess, notably The Turk always played white and always moved first. The Turk would nod twice if an opponents Queen is in check and three times if it the King was in check. If an illegal move was played The Turk would shake it head and move the piece back. Such was the novelty of The Turk that in 1781 it was in Vienna and ready to start its European tour in 1783. A marvel for an automaton in the eighteenth century or so it seemed. Rumours abounded that The Turk was actually an automaton controlled by a human secreted inside the machine through trickery but this was never proved.
This painting bares such a striking resemblance that we believe that Zanbar and The Turk were one and the same.
Zanbar was not an automaton though; a small entry in the diaries of Charles Burroughs has a passing mention of this creature on his visit to Zimsalabim in 1860.
‘…and witnessed the marvel of mystical Zanbar, a street sorcerer who sat crossed legged in the middle of a fine carpet on which was situated a chessboard laid out ready to play. Miraculously the carpet floated a foot off the ground and I could detect no trickery with the situation.’
Zanbar was real and in 1906 it seemed that Zanbar had a new trick up his sleeve when he appeared in Virginia City, Montana contained this time in a special wooden booth with the ability to tell fortunes, something the gold rush clientele would clamber over for. Various sightings of Zanbar feature throughout the next sixty years with many reporting Zanbar and his travelling fortune telling booth as Zendor, Zandar and even Zoltar. Some go as far to attribute Zanbar with the ability to return us to our childhood but that may be stretching the truth a little. It does however explain the addition of the booth though in the painting that exists today.
Zanbar then dropped out of history, records show that he ended up a shopkeeper with premises just off Festive Road, according to all accounts he still wore his fez as he served customers and kept the old mystical booth inside the shop using it as a changing room, the store closed for business in 1972. There are fourteen object scattered around the base of Zanbar in the painting which remain a mystery. Objects identified so far include a Sheriffs badge, a Jolly Roger, a medal, wooden spoon and even a stopper from a genies bottle, mementoes from adventures perhaps?