Fausto Zonaro was a key figure among a small but important group of Italian Orientalist painters that included Alberto Pasini, Pompeo Mariani and Amedeo Preziosi. The painter was lured by his own romantic notions of the Orient to visit Constantinople in 1891. The city did not disappoint, for upon his arrival, he was 'awake day and night', eager to capture the daily activities of the people, the hectic market places, the ships and frigates along the Bosphorous, and the unique landscapes from which he could enjoy extensive views of the city.
Zonaro's successes culminated in 1896 when he was appointed chief artist to the Ottoman court by Sultan Abdülhamid II, to whom he had been introduced by the Italian Ambassador Panza. As court painter, Zonaro donned traditional Turkish dress and enjoyed many privileges, including a residence on the Bosphorus. During his tenure, which lasted just over a decade, he created numerous portraits for the Imperial family and many historical paintings and decorations for their various palaces. When, in 1908, the Sultan was unseated and the Second Constitutional Monarchy was declared, Zonaro reluctantly fled Istanbul with his family and returned to Italy around 1910. The artist subsequently settled in San Remo, where he stayed until his death in 1929.
The present work has remained unpublished until now. Previously known only from an archival photograph, the painting is easily recognisable as one of his famous series of pictures that he painted from this particular vantage point overlooking the Dolmabahçe Mosque, one of which is seen in the old photograph of the artist in his studio (fig. 1).
Zonaro has been hailed by critics as "a poet of light", and this masterful veduta shows the artist at the height of his artistic prowess. The canvas is infused with a fresh luminosity by the brilliant greens in the foreground and colourful figures set against the dusty light of the bustling city beyond. Perhaps more than any other Italian Orientalist painter, Zonaro imbued his canvases with a bolder, more Impressionist touch that communicated his pure encounter with light and its changing effects on the landscape. There are a number of small oil sketches painted of this type of scene, which attest that Zonaro was sketching en plein air and as the photograph also shows, that he completed his work on the finished canvases back at his studio.
The Dolmabahçe Mosque is located on the Bosphorus in the Southern corner of the Dolmabahçe Palace complex. Construction of the mosque began in 1853 at the behest of Sultan Abdulmecid's mother, Bezmialem Valide Sultan. Completed in 1855, it is one of the country's most highly decorated Baroque-style mosques. The circular arrangement of the windows, which resembles a peacock's tail, remains its most unusual but defining architectural feature.
The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed Mr. Erol Maksume.