After 20 years working as a ‘form of inventive director in residence’ on the Ottoman courtroom, Melling tapped into the Parisian craze for turquerie by producing watercolours based mostly on his experiences. One in all them is obtainable in Paris on 22 March
A while across the flip of the nineteenth century, Antoine-Ignace Melling fell mysteriously out of favour on the Ottoman courtroom. Though of French origin, he was a long-time resident of Constantinople, and had served for a number of years as imperial architect to the sultan, Selim III, and his half-sister, Sultana Hatice.
As Melling lamented in a letter to the sultana, ‘Your Highness, on Saturday, I, your humble servant, despatched my manservant to gather my month-to-month wage. They advised him it has been stopped… After seeing a lot kindness from Your Highness, I couldn’t consider this order got here from you… Winter is coming… The owner desires the lease… I entreat you, I’ve been left and not using a coin to my title… Your Highness, I implore you to not abandon me.’
It’s true that Napoleon’s current invasion of Egypt had created anti-French sentiment in Ottoman palace circles. The actual purpose for the withdrawal of Melling’s wage, although, was in all probability the fall-out from an ill-fated love affair he’s rumoured to have had with Sultana Hatice.
When she failed to reply to his plea, Melling realised that his time in Constantinople was up. By 1803, he was again in France. But his profession was removed from over. Drawing on his experiences at courtroom, he went on to create a coveted ebook of 48 engravings known as Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore. These amounted to a survey of life within the Ottoman capital on the time of Selim III.
Every engraving was based mostly on a watercolour by Melling, and on 22 March 2023 one of many few such watercolours to outlive is being supplied at Christie’s in Paris as a part of the Dessins anciens et du XIXe siècle (Previous Grasp and nineteenth Century Drawings) sale.
Born in 1763, Melling started his profession within the portray atelier of his uncle in Strasbourg. He additionally studied arithmetic and structure, earlier than travelling to Italy and the Mediterranean.
Aged round 20, he made it to Constantinople, the place he would accept 20 years. Initially, he labored as a tutor, educating artwork to the kids of households within the well-to-do space of Pera (now Beyoğlu).
He additionally designed a backyard for the mansion of Baron Frederik von Hübsch, the Danish ambassador, and it was after seeing this that an impressed Sultana Hatice contracted Melling herself. His function in imperial service doesn’t appear to have been too exactly outlined — in her ebook, Mediterranean Encounters: Artists Between Europe and the Ottoman Empire 1774-1839, the artwork historian Elisabeth A. Fraser describes him as a ‘form of inventive director in residence’.
His duties included overseeing the stitching of pearls into the sultana’s napkins. Extra famously, he designed the format and gardens of Defterdarburnu, her new palace on the Bosphorus, and managed the entire renovation of Selim III’s summer season dwelling, Beşiktaş Palace.
As a non-public endeavour, Melling additionally produced the watercolours which might later function the premise for Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore. Within the instance coming to public sale, he captured — in shimmering colors and wealthy element — a marriage procession going down in Pera.
The themes aren’t identified to us, however given the circles wherein Melling combined and the lavishness of the scene, they had been clearly folks of distinction. The procession is led by a person on the left, who carries an enormous pole adorned with lengthy, cascading threads of gold foil.
Behind him are two males, every bearing on his head a tray of vases stuffed with flowers; and a jester in a sharp hat, who shakes a handkerchief in a single hand and a workers within the different.
Amongst these farther again is a person carrying a sheep to be sacrificed, adopted by the bridal trousseau and, lastly, the closed chariot containing the bride herself. All are on their approach to meet the groom.
Out of respect for Selim III, Melling inscribed a tughra, the calligraphic emblem of the sultan’s authority, above a water fountain on the image’s far proper.
Taken collectively, the 48 watercolours seize a mixture of landscapes, buildings and native lives being lived, in Constantinople and on its waterways.
Melling’s personal life was quickly to be lived elsewhere, nevertheless, on his elimination from Selim III’s courtroom. Sultana Hatice was married — to the governor of an Ottoman province, who lived removed from the capital — and it has been recommended that when the sultan came upon about her extramarital liaison with Melling, he solid the Frenchman out and insisted that his half-sister finish all contact with him.
Regardless of the fact of this, Melling quickly discovered himself in Paris, missing each cash and recognition. He was savvy sufficient to identify a distinct segment within the metropolis’s artwork market, nevertheless. The 18th century had seen a rising pattern in Western Europe, notably France, for all issues Ottoman: a pattern that even had its personal title, turquerie.
This encompassed textiles, vogue (within the type of turbans and kaftans), music, porcelain, and even a keenness for consuming espresso.
‘Melling noticed his [adopted] metropolis like an Istanbulite however painted it like a clear-eyed Westerner’ — writer Orhan Pamuk
Within the aftermath of their conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans had been deemed the sworn enemies of the Christian West. A failed siege on Vienna in 1683, nevertheless, signalled the top of their navy menace — and by Melling’s time, antagonism had lengthy since given approach to curiosity and admiration.
The artist realised that his pictorial reminiscences of Constantinople would match properly right into a society consumed by turqueries. He exhibited his watercolours, to a lot acclaim, within the Paris Salon — and some even got here into the possession of Napoleon’s spouse, Empress Josephine, a identified admirer.
He additionally arrange a printing studio and commissioned a few of Paris’s most interesting engravers to work on what would turn out to be Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore.
This was printed in quite a few instalments between 1809 and 1819. It got here full with a metropolis map, which identified the place every scene was set, and a textual commentary, because of the enter of realized figures such because the geographer Jean Denis Barbié du Bocage and the historian Jean Charles Dominique de Lacretelle.
This factual method matched Melling’s inventive type. Not like different French artists in Constantinople within the 18th century, resembling Jean-Baptiste Hilaire and Louis-François Cassas — and in contrast to the European Orientalist artists of the nineteenth century who got here after him — Melling averted romanticising or exoticising his material.
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His scenes are marked by their naturalism — a trait certainly due, partly, to the extraordinary entry he needed to the Ottoman courtroom. With the potential exception of Jean-Baptiste Vanmour a century earlier, no different artist earlier than or after him had the identical.
The Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is a fan, and in his ebook Istanbul: Recollections and the Metropolis (2003) claimed that Melling ‘noticed his [adopted] metropolis like an Istanbulite however painted it like a clear-eyed Westerner’.
The overwhelming majority of buildings from the Ottoman period aren’t any extra, due to both fireplace or demolition — and, in consequence, Pamuk regards Melling’s scenes as a ‘misplaced heaven’. To take a look at these life like snapshots of grand outdated Constantinople, he says, is to expertise ‘melancholy combined with pleasure’.
The marriage watercolour counts the diplomat Auguste Boppe as considered one of its previous homeowners. In 1911, after serving as France’s ambassador in Constantinople, Boppe wrote The Painters of the Bosphorus within the 18th Century, which stays a vital work for anybody occupied with turquerie and the European artists who travelled east throughout that interval. (Melling was among the many artists profiled.)
A Turkish Marriage ceremony Procession is being supplied at Christie’s by considered one of Boppe’s descendants, in what shall be its first look available on the market for greater than a century.
As for Melling, because the years handed, his profession in Paris went from energy to energy. He was named as an official painter to each Empress Josephine and, after the restoration of France’s monarchy, Louis XVIII. For all that, nevertheless, it’s his imagery of the Ottoman capital for which he’s greatest remembered.