Carlo Bossoli's startling panorama of the Bosphorus has a liveliness and freshness which breathe the atmosphere of 19th-century Constantinople. Combining realism with a profound sense of local colour, his view of the city accurately reflects its position as a meeting point between East and West, and brings it vividly to life. Modern and traditional vessels ply their trade in front of an iconic skyline, while the bustling foreground teems with figures at work and at leisure. The artist's natural sense of composition and of colour is further reinforced by the work's extraordinary unfaded condition.
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 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.
The view in this painting is taken from Uskudar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, and has changed remarkably little today, with the modern ferry terminal in the same spot as the dock depicted in Bossoli's painting. On the Uskudar side, the artist depicts the Mihriban Mosque, the Yeni Valide Mosque and, at the very tip of the peninsula, the Semsi Pasa Mosque. Moving across the Bosphorus, and the opening to the Sea of Marmara, the eye moves across Leander's Tower towards the shores of Eminonu on the opposite side and the hills of Sultanahmet behind, including buildings such as the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Suleymaniye Mosque. Finally, on the right side, past the Golden Horn, are the districts of Tophane (where modern Istanbul stands today), Karakoy and the Galata Tower.