Audio: Carlo Bossoni Lot 80
Carlo Bossoli (Italian, 1815-1884)
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Carlo Bossoli (Italian, 1815-1884)

Constantinople - a view across the Bosphorus towards Leander's Tower by night

Carlo Bossoli (Italian, 1815-1884)
Constantinople - a view across the Bosphorus towards Leander's Tower by night
gouache on canvas
47 x 65 in. (119.4 x 165.1 cm.)
Executed in 1848.
A. Peyrot, Carlo Bossoli. Luoghi, personaggi, costumi, avvenimenti nell'Europa dell'Ottocento, visti dal pittore ticinese, Turin, 1974, vol. 1, pp. 121-122, and vol. II, plate 35 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Carlo Bossoli’s monumental noctural panorama of the Bosphorus combines a variety of pictorial traditions to create an evocative image of immense power. Fusing grand-tour vedute painting with a contemporary illustrator’s eye for drama, local colour and the picturesque, Bossoli has created a commercial image which played on his audience’s appetite for the exotic world of the Orient and a variety of immediately recognizable visual tropes.

The present painting builds on a tradition of nocturnal painting best represented by artists such as the 18th century, French painter Pierre-Jacques Volaire, and commercialized on an almost industrial scale by numerous Neopolitan painters in gouache, updated here with an exotic but contemporary narrative. Volaire made his reputation in Naples and in Rome, specializing in depicting moonlit pictures of the Gulf of Naples, eruptions of Vesuvius by night (fig. 1) and in pyrotechnic scenes such as fireworks over the Castel Sant’Angelo . Commercially immensely popular, these exhibited the same dramatic contrasts of cool, nocturnal blues, with fiery and billowing displays of smoke and fire of the kind represented here.

The exact view here looks South-West down the Bosphorus towards the main landmarks of Constantinople, and over Leander’s Tower, a 12th-century structure which lies on a small islet just off the coast of Uskudar. The conflagration on the far bank takes place in the Hills of Galata, its famous tower starkly set in profile by the flames behind it. Although this painting is tentatively dated to circa 1848 by Peyrot (op. cit.), the exact event recorded here by Bossoli is unknown; Constantinople’s wooden architectural fabric was nonetheless an on-going danger to the city throughout its history, as several hundred major fires were recorded in the 19th century, notably in 1856 and 1865.

For Bossoli, the artistic opportunities afforded by such a dramatic occasion were obvious, and it seems that he was striving in the present work above all to create an image which fuses the naturalism of topographical detail with a profoundly Romantic and timeless atmosphere. The latter is reinforced by a sense of human presence which is suggested rather than explicitly stated; indeed, Bossoli has eschewed the staffage and normally bustling atmosphere he uses on other occasions to describe the city (fig. 2), with only the twinkling windows in the foreground hinting at any activity. Compositionally, the work is notable not only for the broadness of its vista, but the visual contrast created by the sea of small verticals – trees, minarets, towers and ships at anchor – which all reinforce each other and root the image immutably in time and space. The city, like the Galata Tower, stands as an eternal symbol, able to withstand all that man and nature can throw at it.

Bossoli was the leading topographical painter of his age, and a superb draftsman, noted for the format of his broad vistas and an amazing wanderlust which took him beyond Italy, through Europe to the Middle East. His city views, which were often dramatically lit, included Moscow, St. Petersburg, Venice, Prague, Warsaw Paris, and London, and he travelled extensively through North Africa, painting in Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. He was also a major chronicler of the Italian Risorgimento. Above all, his pictures deftly manage to combine both the picturesque and the modernity of his age.

Bossoli first travelled through Constantinople in 1839, on his way back to Italy from Odessa, where his family had emigrated when he was a child. The city, which was a regular staging post on the journeys he made between the Crimea and Italy in the early 1840s, made an indelible impression upon him, and throughout his life he combined into highly finished compositions the drawings he had made whilst there.

Bossoli received commissions from the highest quarters: his patrons included Empress Eugénie, Prince Eugene of Savoy and Queen Victoria. The present work dates from a period when he executed an unusually large number of pictures of the Crimea and the Bosphorus, in part to meet demand from English patrons--both private collectors and commercial print-makers--whose interest in the region was stoked by the country's involvement in the Crimean War.

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