Amadeo Preziosi

Count Amadeo Preziosi, who died in 1882, was an Orientalist painter who was passionately in love with the Bosphorus.

Unlike other orientalist painters, Amadeo Preziosi didn’t just pass through Istanbul. Almost never breaking his ties with it, up to 1882 he united his life with Istanbul, dubbed in the West ‘the Queen of World Cities’. Preziosi, as Haluk Şehsuvaroğlu describes him, was a painter who lived an Ottoman life, “expressing the whole mystery of the sky and light of Istanbul in his watercolor paintings.”
Preziosi’s love of the city added a special something to his tableaux, each one more vibrant and colorful than the last. E.H. Jerningham has this to say in his book, ‘To and From Constantinople’: “No one visiting Istanbul should leave without seeing Mr. Preziosi’s atelier for a perfect watercolor view of life on the [Galata] bridge. This artist, who possesses considerable talent, primarily in watercolor, has brought to life that unique Eastern color that permeates everything of the East, and in doing so has created a true souvenir of the things that most impress a traveler [to Istanbul].”

The title of Count was conferred on the Preziosi family in 1718 by King Victor Amadeu II, Duke of Sardinia and Savoy. Amadeo Preziosi was born in Malta on 2 December 1816 and spent his childhood and youth there. His father, Count Gio François Preziosi, was a highly respected figure on the island.
Amadeo Preziosi’s interest in painting began in his childhood. Despite family pressure to study law, he abandoned his studies in the profession and took up painting lessons at the studio of Giuseppe Hyzler, a celebrated Maltese artist. In the 1840s he traveled to Paris together with his brother Leandro and enrolled at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts while his brother studied photography, a new discovery at the time.
Becoming aware of the mysticism of the East at the start of the 19th century, the Romantic painters brought to the West the Oriental landscapes they had recently discovered in their brilliant tableaux and the fiery colors they used. Amadeo Preziosi too was one of several painters who came to Istanbul from Malta and fell hopelessly under the spell of Oriental mysticism. Leaving Malta for good in 1842, he believed he was going to be reborn in the ‘East’.
The fact that he was from Malta, which was ruled by the British Empire, meant that Amadeo Preziosi carried an English passport. He therefore established very close friendships not only with the Levantine society of Pera but with Levantine families of British descent as well. He was an artist especially sought out by the English diplomatic mission. Several paintings by Preziosi, who had deep respect for the King and Queen of England, even made it into the painting collection of the British Palace.
In 1850 during the Crimean War the Western press asked Preziosi to paint the warships, the British army, and various unusual scenes on the Bosphorus. Preziosi was extremely productive during this period. When Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his fiancée Princess Alexandra Christina were staying in Istanbul in 1869, they visited the artist’s studio in Hammalbaşı Street opposite the British Embassy in Beyoğlu and purchased several paintings.
Since his paintings were so popular, Preziosi published two albums of his lithograph works. The second album, in the Topkapı Palace Library, was reprinted in 1883, shortly after the artist’s death, by the Canson Libraire in Paris using the Le Mercier system. On 24 September 1882 the following news item appeared in the ‘Levant Herald’, a newspaper published in Istanbul: “Messieur Preziosi, watercolor painter and famous artist of our city, was in the countryside around Yeşilköy the day before yesterday with his servant for the purpose of hunting. After spending some time there, he decided to return home and handed his rifle to his servant. But the rifle slipped from his hand and fell to the ground setting off the trigger, and Messieur Preziosi was wounded in the spray of shrapnel that followed the explosion. The shrapnel settled in the artist’s ribs. He is severely injured and his condition is grave.” Amadeo Preziosi never came out of the coma he fell into on the day that news was printed. He is buried in the San Stefano Catholic Cemetery at Yeşilköy.
Although his house on Hammalbaşı Street is in ruins today and has undergone considerable change due to the new apartment buildings that have gone up in the former garden of the mansion on Yeşilköy’s Teyyareci Nuri Bey Street, it nevertheless continues to withstand time’s depredations.

A learned yet whimsical architecture, subtle harmony among the colors, unique compatibility of decorations, which are constantly changing... These were beautiful things that drew Preziosi to Istanbul. The Bosphorus, the banks of the Golden Horn, excursion spots, graveyards, markets - these were his favorite themes. One of Preziosi’s most outstanding traits was the interest he took in the human types that inhabited the Ottoman lands. So much so that when Preziosi was depicting all the life that on the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and Istanbul, he never neglected to include all the human types from the various occupations and ethnic groups that made up the Ottoman Empire, incorporating each one down to its finest details. The paintings of this artist who was in love with Istanbul have now been culled from various collections and brought together in an exhibition. Preziosi’s landscapes, which were exhibited as the paintings of a Turkish artist in the Ottoman pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1876, and his watercolors, which were among the souvenirs most frequently bought by foreigners visiting the city, are awaiting art lovers at the Yapı Kredi Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery until 23 February.

We would like to thank Yapı Kredi Publications for their assistance in providing the visual materials.