Alberto Pasini was the most important and extensively travelled of all the Italian Orientalist painters. He enjoyed success both in his own country and in France, where he spent much of his time after 1851. Although educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Parma, Pasini moved to Paris where he befriended other artists such as Eugène Fromentin, Jules Dupré and Théodore Rousseau, who influenced the development of his technique. His introduction to the Near East came through the diplomat Prosper Bourée who had asked him in 1855 to accompany him on a mission to Persia, in place of the ailing Théodore Chassériau who had employed Pasini in his studio. This excursion led him to Turkey, Armenia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Persian Gulf and, ultimately, Teheran where he settled for over two years, taking commissions from Nasser-ed-Din Shah, the ruler of Persia who, fascinated by photography, was no doubt also enthralled by the artist's exquisite form of painterly realism.
Pasini remarked on the colourful buildings of Constantinople that "rays of sunlight rendered them like precious gems" (quoted in V.B. Cardoso, Pasini, Genoa, 1991, p. 86, note 11). The city offered for him a profusion of visual delights, worked into canvases for which he found it hard to keep up demand from his Parisian dealer, Goupil.
As Vittoria Cardoso writes: "All the horses of seemed to quench their thirst at the fountains, and everywhere were sellers of oranges and melons; veiled women mingled in the crowds of the bazaar; couriers carried messages and Circassians lingered in the doorways of countless palaces, waiting to escort a pasha or the Sultan. No nook of the city or aspect of daily life escaped his eye."(V.B. Cardoso, op.cit.)
Pasini's extended 1867 trip to Constantinople was spurred by an invitation from his old friend Bourée, now French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and by the need to find new pictorial material that would find a natural echo in his chromatic, shimmering palette. The trip would form the basis for Pasini's core output for years to come.
Pasini was distinctly uninterested in the pomp that greeted his arrival, and sought to escape the artificiality of the diplomatic neighbourhood, in which so many embassies were quartered, for the hustle and bustle of the city. He stayed there for nine months, creating numerous studies in oil and pencil that he would use as source material on his return to Paris. He paid particular attention to architecture, painting the Yeni Djami mosque - a focal point of city life - from several angles, and also the Blue Mosque and the Haga Sofia.
Pasini could not, however, completely escape the limelight: he was commissioned by the Sultan Abdul Aziz to paint a victory scene from the recent war in Crete, a work so well received that it led to the commissioning of three other works drawn from the same theme, which Pasini completed on his return to Europe, and then personally delivered in July of the following year. It is telling that Pasini found the commission a distraction: he was not particularly interested in the subject, and was frustrated by the strictures of etiquette that the commission imposed upon him.
Pasini's natural talents as a draughtsman, his sensitivity to colour and local custom radiate through the present work. Executed years after his return from Turkey, it exhibits a greater degree of finish, particulary in the figures, than most other works of this kind. As Lynn Thornton notes, "His technical skill, sense of color harmony and excellent treatment of light make one regret that his delightful paintings are so rarely to be found." (L. Thornton, The Orientalist Painter-Travellers, Paris, 1994, p. 142).