Yesterday I had a behind the scenes tour with a few Daily Press (our local newspaper) employees and I pulled one of my favorite watercolors (alright, alright, that’s a bit of a stretch–if I was hard pressed to pick just one piece I’d have trouble, but it is certainly at the top of the list!). I pulled the image because I wanted to show the international aspect of our collection and this piece is pretty spectacular.
The image, titled “Vue Generale du Port de Constantinople prise des Hauteurs d’Eyoub,” is a panoramic view of Istanbul (at that time called Constantinople) and the Golden Horn drawn from the heights of the Eyüp neighborhood at the northeast corner of the city. The image shows the whole harbor and the east side of the city and the Galata neighborhood with its Galata Tower which is the northernmost observation point of the old city walls. Visible in the image are many recognizable buildings including the Topkapi palace, the Aya Sofia mosque, the Blue Mosque, the Osman Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Bayezid II Mosque, Prophet Mohammed’s Mosque, Sultan Selim Mosque, Tekfur Palace, and the Eyüp Sultan Mosque.
It is just one of ten truly exceptional artworks in our collection created by artist and architect Antoine Ignace Melling (1763-1831) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for a publication titled “Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore.” The book contains 48 engraved plates depicting stunning delineations of the city’s skylines and includes one of the earliest interior views of a harem.
Melling was born at Carlesruhe, Germany in 1763 and at the age of nineteen became a member of the Russian ambassador’s retinue in Turkey (I don’t know about you guys but at 19 my kid had his face stuck in an Xbox). He remained in Constantinople for eighteen years and became architect to Hatice Sultan, Selim III’s sister, which is how he was eventually granted access to the harem and other palaces. Melling returned to Paris in 1803 and began publication of the Voyage Pittoresque in 1809. It was completed in 1819. We are fortunate that along with the ten artworks our Library holds a copy of Melling’s remarkable publication.