52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 35: Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore (1819)
”He saw the city like an Istanbullu but painted it like a cleareyed Westerner.”
-Orhan Pamuk, Memories of the City (2005)
This week’s illustration post is certainly the largest item to be featured on this blog series, and the heaviest, and the hardest to photograph! Antoine Ignace Melling’s masterpiece Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore provides us with our inspiring illustrations of the week. Melling, born in southern German to an artistic father, raised by a painting uncle and a student of architecture and mathematics, was almost certainly destined to become a great artist. By the 1780s he had joined the Russian Ambassador’s retinue and travelled a household artist to Italy, Egypt and Constantinople.
This young, adventuring artist’s life would change when he was introduced to Hatrice Sultan, sister to Ottoman Sultan Selim III (pictured right). Impressed with his artistic ability and eye for architectural detail, Hatrice Sultan orchestrated the employment of Melling as Imperial Architect, a post which he held for 18 years. During his time in Constantinople, Melling designed gardens, palaces, clothes and jewellery for Hatrice Sultan. He also had the opportunity to make detailed drawings of the interiors of the Sultan’s palaces, to observe Ottoman society and to sketch Constantinople and its surrounding area.
Melling returned to Paris in 1803 and published a prospectus for subscribers for what would be his Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore. After six years he had raised enough money and established an engraving studio to begin production of his work. By 1809 Melling had secured text description of his plates from Charles de Lacretelle and the first of 12 issues was released, each with four plates. By 1819, all 12 issues, along with a topographical description (by Jean-Denis Barbié du Bocage) and three engraved maps, had been published.
This stunning collection of engravings offers some of the earliest interior views of the sultan’s palaces as well as a very intimate portrait of Ottoman society. Melling’s view offer a sweeping scale of Constantinople and its rivers and seas. Melling’s keen eye for architectural beauty is evident throughout, my favourite being his detail in the Fontaine de Tophane (above). He also included several interesting social scenes in these large views, my favourite being a man walking his bear through the central park (below).
Melling’s publication was wildly successful; he enjoyed the patronage of Napoleon and was employed by the French Government to produce engravings of a similar beauty of the Pyrenees in 1821. However his work on his beloved Constantinople still remains the most intimate collection of paintings published by Melling.
St Andrews is lucky enough to have an entirely complete volume of this publication. Because of the size and beauty of them, the engravings have had a long history of being sold off individually (for quite high prices). Our copy comes from the collection of Sir Steven Runciman who bequeathed his collection of almost 4000 books on the Near and Middle East to St Andrews in 2000.
The images here were taken from the St Andrews copy, however the Teylers Museum has provided a full scan of their two volume set online. This book is a beauty to behold, as long as you have a table big enough to behold it upon!