Amadeo Count Preziosi

Orientalism is a terminology enjoyed by most travellers, because of its enigma, catch or pure wording I don’t know.  But I do know the best and maybe the first Orientalist painter to portray Istanbul. His name is Amadeo Count Preziosi, he is a Levantine watercolourist from Malta. When I first saw his art I had to know who he was and hence here I am sharing this 1816 Valetta born artist.

The most important thing about Amadeo is that he spent perhaps two third of his life in Istanbul where he befriended Europeans, Muslims and also Levantines. He was an Orientalist painter who knew the city of his canvasses inside out unlike some who came and went preferring to perceive Istanbul on a romantic and exotically as an outsider rather than an insider.

But, Preziosi was a different kind. He not only knew his way around the city but he also embraced what was there as his own and I believe just because of this in 1867 at the International Exhibition in Paris he hung his art as a Turkish artist in the Ottoman Pavilion.

Due to his father’s pressure on demanding him to become a lawyer, Preziosi left Malta to discover his own life journey. He set sail for İstanbul and during his travels and kept notes. In his notes two sentences are very important that I need to share with you as I believe these are where the fundamental passions lay for İstanbul. He said: “The East will be a rebirth for me and I shall be happy there.” When he arrived in İstanbul he noted: “And lo, here are my canvases, my landscapes as laid before me.”

With his arrival, he painted his first canvas which is dated to autumn 1842. He met with important foreigners in Istanbul who commissioned him to paint depicting various characters encountered in Istanbul. In our periods terminology he was asked to photograph all he could observe in the city that grabbed his interest. He married a Greek women and settled in Beyoğlu where he made friends. He had his studio in Pera and was often called by foreign visitors to the city.

In his painting we observe two types of subject matters.

In the first one set he gives us his perception of scenes from everyday life in the city by painting merchants, street vendors, confectioners, dervishes and soldiers. He didn’t concentrate on a certain ethnical group but grew what was the truth of the Ottoman Empire at that time the multi ethnic unity. So in his paintings we see Armenians, Jews, Ottomans, Greeks, Albanians or any other ethnic groups that lived in the capital city. As always, his works were appreciated by the foreigners living or visiting the city. They were purchased as souvenirs that is how we get to see his works all over the world today. For example ‘The Harem’ named canvas is displayed at The Searight Collection in England.

When Preziosi noticed that his works were in tremendous demand, he started copying his original paintings and when even this didn’t cut the chase he started turning them into prints. Basically because of his artistic products Istanbul became an even became more popular in the West. He especially concentrated on naturalism, folks who have not yet been touched by the new waves of westernisation. He took care to show in details their traditional costumes as they varied from one ethnic group to the other. A living documentary on a painting as I call it.

His second main topic was the vistas of the city. Therefore he drew Bosphorus, The Golden Horn, graveyards, marketplaces and spots where the public went for picnic. In such works he brings out the neutrality picturesque quality of the scenes. It’s strange that he never touched topic such a politics or the royal family except one or two watercolour paintings. He strictly concentrated on the public and the scenery. Basically two dominant topics that makes a city unique or what makes İstanbul, İstanbul!

It’s sad that the 21st century has almost forgotten him, thanks to recent interest on Orientalism he has been once again brought to prominence. Unfortunately most of his works are exhibited outside İstanbul. Some yes (thank God) can be seen in Topkapı Palace, The Naval museum and the Museum of Paintings and Sculpture. I couldn’t find much about the later years of the artist. In the famous Murray’s Guide To Turkey it is mentioned that the colours of Mr. Preziosi are still recommended but its much convenient and easy to bring back home a photograph of Abdullah Brothers. So we see here that photography is taking over the colours of artists.

I hope in the near future respect will be paid to such honourable artistical attaches of İstanbul. He lives on in his paintings and colours but I would really appreciate is a monument was erected on his behalf so that people would be more aware of his unique impact on advertising İstanbul as the capital of the whole world. He rests in the Catholic Cemetery in Yeşilköy…