Impressions From Afar

18th-Century İstanbul in the Paintings of Clara and Luigi Mayer

By İstanbul Research Institute

View of the Bosphorus as seen from the slopes of Beylerbeyi (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

Unparalleled Picturesque Views

Accelerated in the 18th century with the idea of Enlightenment, travels to the East was attractive not only for statesmen, politicians and travelers, but for the artists as well.

With its aesthetic conventions evolving from classic to modern, İstanbul became a center of attraction for European artists of the period. Taking the West by a storm, the heart of “Turquerie” was now beating in the Ottoman Porte.

Opened at the İstanbul Research Institute galleries, the exhibition is comprised of the unparalleled picturesque views the city had to offer in late 18th century by Luigi Mayer, who came to the city along with Sir Robert Ainslie, ambassador to the Ottoman Porte between 1776 – 1792, and by his wife Clara Barthold Mayer. Nine watercolors by Clara Barthold Mayer and one by Luigi Mayer that are on display belongs to the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Orientalist Paintings Collection. 

Çanakkale – Cape Abydos, Entrance to the Bosphorus (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

A panoramic viewpoint of İstanbul in the 18th century

The idea of Enlightenment opened the doors of the Orient
with the keys of politics.  Materializing
in the 18th century and recognized as the “Eastern Question,” this political
construct encompassed a wide cultural realm of production that extended from
literature, music and painting to archaeology. 
Not only statesmen, but artists as well left their imprint on this
century. With its aesthetic conventions evolving from classic to modern, İstanbul
became a center of attraction for European artists of the period. As daily life
broke out of its protective shell, the art of painting began to construct the
changing visage of the city with Orientalist images. Taking the West by a
storm, the heart of “Turquerie” was now beating in the Ottoman Porte. As
witnesses of this period in İstanbul, Luigi and Clara Mayer convey their
panoramic viewpoint of the city.

The Sultan’s procession aboard the imperial caïque in front of the Imperial Naval Arsenal in the Golden Horn (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

Clara Barthold Mayer

There is hardly any information available about the life of this artist. Various sources indicate that she is of Swiss origin and that her father served as a dragoman in the British Embassy in İstanbul. Clara Barthold met Luigi Mayer in İstanbul and after they were married, she moved to England with her husband in 1794. Focusing on figural landscapes, the artist’s works were published in London the same year by J. Harris. Barthold also published her husband’s paintings and, following Luigi Mayer’s death in 1803, continued to work out of their house in London’s Portman Square. Clara Mayer’s watercolor entitled, Entrance to the Port of Constantinople, as well as her Bosphorus, Sarayburnu and Yedikule, compositions engraved by John William Edy are currently preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.

The Sultan’s imperial caïque off the shores of Üsküdar (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

“The caïques of the sultans are noticed immediately from a distance with their size and elegance, gilt and ornamentation, the number of their oarsmen and grandeur. They are equipped with fourteen pairs of oars. Dressed in white, 28 Bostancis row haughtily as the Bostanci-bashi steers the Imperial caïque. Each one of the sultan’s caïque excursions and return to the palace is greeted by a salvo of artillery fire. The Imperial caïque is distinguished by the beautiful, deep red, gold-trimmed canopy at the stern.” Olivier, 1792

View of Constantinople as seen from Bulgurlu on the slopes of Üsküdar (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

“Bulgurlu Hill is located 2 kilometers east of Üsküdar. The view from here stretches far into the distance, encompassing almost all of İstanbul. (...) We took immense pleasure in observing the spectacular view that the commanding hill had to offer. We could not keep our eyes off the splendor of the landscape: the city, the port, the meandering Bosphorus, the villages along the shores, the Marmara Sea decked with islands, and finally the verdant plains of the European and Asian sides all stretched before our eyes.” Olivier, 1792

View of Constantinople and port as seen from the Maiden’s Tower (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

View of the Bosphorus entrance (Üsküdar-Sarayburnu) as seen from Dolmabahçe (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

View of the Bosphorus as seen from Tarabya until the entrance of the Black Sea (Late 18th century) by Clara Barthold (Mayer)İstanbul Research Institute

View of Constantinople and Eyüp as seen from Okmeydanı (Late 18th century) by Luigi Mayerİstanbul Research Institute

Luigi Mayer (1755-1803)

Luigi Mayer was one of the most important 18th century European artists to have been lured by the magic of the Orient into painting this geography.  Mayer studied art in Italy. In 1771, he gained recognition by winning the drawing award of Académie de St-Luc. Inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment flourishing in the Late Baroque era, he painted ancient civilizations. Between 1776 and 1792, he travelled extensively across Anatolia as part of the archaeological expeditions of Sir Robert Ainslie, who had taken up the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Porte. Upon his return to İstanbul, Mayer married Clara Barthold. Together, the couple portrayed the unparalleled picturesque views the city had to offer in late 18th century. The naïve aestheticism and realistic style of Mayer’s art reflects Sultan Selim III’s modernizing İstanbul in a well-balanced manner.

Credits: Story

Curator: Ekrem Işın
Digital Adaptation: Irmak Wöber, Başak Arifoğlu, Umut Koca,

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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