This painting has been traditionally attributed to Colonel Robert Smith (1787-1873) of the Bengal Engineers who spent much of his career abroad serving in India from 1805 until his retirement in 1833. He is also recorded as having been in Mauritius, Penang and Nepal, and seems to have remained abroad throughout the 1840s. Colonel Smith has sometimes been confused with the artist Captain Robert Smith of the 44th Regiment, whose drawings are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, but this latter Robert Smith was not in the Indian army and not known to have painted oils.
This sweeping view of Constantinople and Sarayburnu includes several of the city's most important mosques and other monuments. In the foreground on the coastline of the Bosphorus is the Ortaköy Mosque (in its first incarnation, before it was rebuilt in the 1850s), and across the harbor lies the Topkapi Sarayi complex. In the middle ground is the majestic Hagia Sophia, its four minarets piercing the skyline. In the far right background the sixteenth-century Blue Mosque with its six minarets rises from the crowded urban citiscape. All of this seen from atop the sloping hill of Galata on the edge of the old city.
European artists and travelers were enamored with the exoticism of the Ottoman landscape. Professional artists and amateurs alike depicted both topographically accurate and fantasy or pastiche views of the city and its monuments.
Painted in 1839, this work is among the earliest nineteenth-century examples of this European fascination with eastern subjects. While the French Romanticist Eugène Delacroix traveled to Morocco and Algeria as early as 1832, the scores of European and American artists who ventured East did not arrive until decades later. Jean-Léon Gérôme, perhaps the best known of these artists, made his first journey to the East only in 1853, arriving in Constantinople in that year. Like Colonel Robert Smith, Gérôme found the city intoxicating as he declared, 'My short stay in Constantinople had whetted my appetite and the Orient was my most frequent dream' (G. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Courbevoie, 2000, p. 42).