Gentile Bellini served as state painter to the Republic of Venice. In 1479, they sent him to Mehmet II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Bellini drew several individuals he encountered in Constantinople, but only this sheet is finished with color and gold, suggesting that it may have been intended for the sultan himself.
Gardner purchased this rare work in 1907 with the help of artist Anders Zorn, leaving her usual art advisor Bernard Berenson seething with envy. Proud of the purchase, Gardner later collected the publications which documented the drawing’s discovery by Swedish collector, scholar, and dealer Fredrik R. Martin in Constantinople around 1905.