A painter of genre, views and portraits at the height of the 19th century, Amedeo Preziosi is a ‘pivotal’ figure due to the decades of change in which he operated and also to the geographical location of much of his artistic career. Having moved to Constantinople in 1842, he was in fact an important figure for Western travellers, establishing himself between 1845 and 1875 as the most popular painter of Oriental themes, in particular sought after by the British and French.
Born in Malta, Preziosi was trained in Rome by the Maltese Giuseppe Hyzler, who had been associated with Overbeck and the Nazarenes in Rome. Around 1840, he went to Paris with his brother Léandro: while the latter studied photography, he enrolled at the Académie des Beaux-Arts and developed, under the influence of Daumier and others, an interest in the study of the characters of everyday life. By studying his production, of which the uninhibited mixture of pictorial genres (those of views, popular themes and typological or ‘ethnic’ portraits) is striking, Francesco Leone has been able to focus on the artist’s workshop practices, thanks to which he was able to organise a multiplied production of his works to meet the demands of an increasingly vast public. Another aspect brought into focus is the use of mechanical devices and optical instruments such as the camera, pantograph and camera ottica for his views (Leone 2011).
In Constantinople in 1866, at the palace of Sultan Abdülaziz, Preziosi met Prince Charles I of Romania, who invited him to travel with him and draw places and customs of the Principality, which the artist did in the summers of 1868 and 1869. The watercolour presented here is dated to the last day of his second Romanian sojourn, from 30 May to 15 July 1869, documented in an album of 90 watercolours kept in the Bucharest Municipal Museum, many of which were exhibited in the National Museum in the University Palace that same year (Urechia 1869; Ionescu 2003). The viewpoint echoes that adopted in the watercolour of 1 July 1868 in which Bucharest is seen from Filaret Hill, where the first Romanian railway station was to be inaugurated that very year. The capital’s skyline stands out clearly behind a foreground occupied by caravans of gypsies, happily uniting the two only apparently contrasting aesthetic categories of the real and the picturesque.