ARTICLE: EROL MAKZUME-OMER FARUK SERİFOGLU
A painter through whom the East spoke
Leonardo de Mango
Orientalist painter Leonardo de Mango, who spent close to half a century in Istanbul, is being remembered in an exhibition on the 75th anniversary of his death.
An Orientalist painter who lived almost half a century in Istanbul up to his death, Leonardo de Mango is described by the art commentator Thalasso as, “a painter through whom the East spoke”. De Mango was born on 19 February 1843, the eldest child of a large family in the town of Bisceglie in Italy, where he honed his native talent for drawing up to the age of nineteen. In 1862, under the patronage of an aristocratic family of Bari, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples and studied there for eight years.
At the Academy, de Mango was the student of landscape artist Filippo Palizzi and of Domenico Morelli, a painter who treated romantic, historical, religious and orientalist themes in his canvases. During this period de Mango also worked with such celebrated painters of the time as Saverio Altamura, Bernardo Celentano, Raffaele d’Auria, Federico Maldarelli, Raffaele Postiglione and Giuseppe Mancinelli. Learning from them the techniques of representing light and nature on canvas, the student artist won first prize in drawing at the Academy for two works, ‘Hunchback’ and ‘Nude’. While still quite young, he traveled to Syria in 1874 and made his first acquaintance with the Orient. After visiting Damascus, Aleppo and other towns in the vicinity, he settled in Beirut where he gave painting lessons at the local Jesuit College. The most important composition painted by De Mango in Beirut, where he spent nine years and completed a large number of canvases including landscapes and seascapes as well as paintings on religious subjects, is ‘Le conteur populaire’ dated 1882, in which a storyteller is regaling the people gathered around him with tales of the legendary hero Antar.
A GIFT FOR THE KING
The artist’s quest for a warm and transparent light is evident in his oriental-style works painted in Syria and Lebanon, while the influence of the famous Orientalist painter Alexandre Gabriel Decamps, who lived briefly in Anatolia, is apparent in the fine gradations of tone and chiaroscuro effects he achieves. In the paintings he made in the ‘Suk Midan’ at Damascus, for example, he depicted the congested lanes and cloth merchants in a virtual rainbow of colors.
After Beirut de Mango lived briefly in Egypt, traveling from there to Tripoli where he was the guest of the Italian consul-general, Cavaliere Medana. Here he produced two paintings, ‘The City of Tripoli’ and the large-scale, ‘Shores of Tripoli’, which depicts a segment of the Tripolitanian shore lapped by diaphanous spume in shades of mother-of-pearl. The Consul-general made gifts of both paintings to the Italian king, Umberto I.
In 1883 De Mango decided to settle in Istanbul, where he is known to have set up, and taught for some time at, the oil painting department of the School of Fine Arts. Forced to leave Istanbul briefly in 1911 during the Tripolitanian War, the artist returned to the city following the Treaty of Ouchy on
15 October 1912 and stayed for close to half a century until his death in 1930. De Mango was among the artists who, at the initiative of Alexander Vallaury, a teacher in the architecture department of the School of Fine Arts, and Regis Delbeuf, manager of the Istanbul daily Le Stamboul, organized the first painting and sculpture exhibition at Beyoğlu in 1901, dubbed the ‘Pera Exhibitions in the Passage Oriental’, an arcade owned by the French merchant Bourdon. With 27 works, De Mango was the most well-represented artist in the exhibition, as he was again in the 1920 exhibition when he was one of 36 artists, participating with 33 of his own paintings. De Mango also had 16 paintings in the last of the Pera exhibitions, which was held
De Mango conjured up idyllic scenes in the paintings he made at Fenerbahçe and Üsküdar on Istanbul’s undulating coastline. The sparkling surface and unruffled calm of the sea and the trees along the shore enhance the dream-like atmosphere. Besides these scenes on the Marmara, the artist also depicted a large number of other spots in Istanbul including Büyükdere, Göksu (the Sweet Waters of Asia), the old Muslim quarter of Eyüp, the Greek district of Phanar, the Princes’ Islands, the Golden Horn, Seraglio Point and the Bosphorus. Despite his powerful use, especially, of color in his oil paintings, problems of perspective are nonetheless observable here and there.
A prolific artist, De Mango worked extensively in oil, water color, pencil and India ink. Not only did he continuously treat new subjects, he is also known, upon popular demand, to have reworked at his Beyoğlu atelier some of his earlier studies of Damascus, Beirut and Egypt from sketches at hand, selling most of them to his Levantine clients.
With the proclamation of the Republic on 29 October 1923 and the transfer of the seat of government to Ankara, artistic activities in Istanbul began to lose momentum as development focused on the new capital. During this formative period in the Turkish art of painting and its milieu, the artist was therefore far-removed from the new developments. Owing to advancing age, his activities were restricted to giving lessons in the mansions of the cosmopolitan circle in which he lived and moved, and holding one-man shows at the Italian-run ‘Societa Operaia’ and ‘Casa d’Italia’. He also made large-scale paintings of the saints commissioned by the city’s several Italian churches.
DE MANGO AT DOLMABAHÇE PALACE
Leading a solitary existence, De Mango was a man of supreme dignity and nobility and of a proud, stern nature. Through a regular correspondence with his brother Carlo de Mango back in Italy, he maintained close ties with his family and the city of his birth. In financial straits during the final years of the near half-century he spent in Istanbul, De Mango lived in a single room allocated to him by Marcello Campaner in the ‘Palazzetto dei Dragomani’ (Translators’ House) behind the Casa d’Italia. De Mango, who died at the age of eighty-eight, never married and nursed a perpetual longing for a family.
Leonardo de Mango, who is thought to have made some 1500 drawings and paintings, both oils and water colors, during his 47-year sojourn in Istanbul, is being remembered in an exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of his death. The exhibition, organized by the Turkish Department of National Palaces in cooperation with Yapı Kredi Art and Culture Publications, the Pinacoteca Provinciale de Bari and the Italian Culture Center in the Throne Room of the Dolmabahçe Palace, includes some hundred works by the artist culled from various collections. The exhibition, which runs until 15 January, will be repeated from 13 February to 31 March in the city of Bari in Italy where the artist was born.
The visual materials used here are taken from the archives of Erol Makzume and from the exhibition catalogue, ‘Leonardo de Mango: An Orientalist in Beyoğlu’.