Unlike many of his contemporaries who created their Orientalist paintings in Paris studios based on secondary accounts and arranged from studio props, Alberto Pasini traveled extensively through Persia, Arabia, Syria and Turkey to experience firsthand the unique character of these lands. His introduction to the Near East came through the diplomat Prosper Boure who had asked him in 1855 to accompany him on a mission to Persia in place of the ailing Thodore Chasseriau (see lot 75). At the conclusion of his duties with Boure, Pasini spent the following year traveling extensively in Turkey, Persia and Egypt. This expedition proved to be an incredible discovery for the painter and he returned to these parts four more times to renew his inspiration.
The light and local color, the resplendent finery of the figures and the lavishly decorated settings of the interiors enchanted Pasini. The images he portrayed from his trips provided an escape from the grey European landscape with its encroaching industrial development and earned him numerous honors. Caserne a Istanbul provides an accurate and extensive record of a land that would have been unknown to much of his European public. A superb draftsman and colorist, Pasini captures the atmosphere of strong sunlight and conveys the impression of the picture having been painted en plein air. So compelling were Pasini's compositions that they caused the influential critic Jules Castegnary to rethink his criticism:
The harmony is perfect, the draftsmanship and the architecture are the ultimate, the persons and the actions of the groupings..are so naturalistically rendered that I forget my old hatred of Orientalism. (quoted in C. Juler, Les Oreintalistes de L'ecole Italienne, Paris, 1987, p. 192)
Pasini was renowned for his paintings of Arabian horses and was said to excell "in group compositions of horses, their shinny rumps towards the spectator, held by simple soldiers who mix with merchants and passers-by" (L. Thornton, The Orientalists, Painters and Travellers 1828-1908, Paris, 1983, p.124). The present picture combines not only his interest in equestrian subjects but also his concern with the accurate depiction of architectural settings. The subject of Caserne a Istanbul is also detailed in La vecchia Caserna (sold Christie's, New York, 22 October 1997, lot 160) which Pasini submitted to the Salon of 1883, however, the present painting presents a more complex arrangement of cavalry and cannon against the backdrop of a more colorfully painted fascade. Pasini had remarked on the colorful buildings of Constantinople from his stay there in the late 1860s, noting that "rays of sunlight rendered them like precious gems" (quoted in V. B. Cardoso, Pasini, Genova, 1991, p. 86, note 11). In addition, the portrayal of the cavalry soldiers and horses is indebted to his 1867 commissions from the Sultan Abdul Mecit to paint scenes that glorified the Turkish military.