Amedeo Preziosi: Painter of an Exotic, Vanished World


Count Amedeo Preziosi (1816-1882) created unique images of the 19th century Balkans. Now a remarkable exhibition in Bucharest celebrates this artist, whose works have provided a first-hand source for historians and anthropologists.

By Marian Tutui for Southeast European Times in Bucharest - 14/07/03

The Museum of Bucharest is hosting a remarkable exhibition dedicated to a foreigner who created unique images of Romania and the Balkans during the 19th century. Count Amedeo Preziosi (1816-1882) of Malta belongs to the great family of the Romantic school of traveling artists drawn by the mirage of the Orient, its brilliant colours and picturesque scenes.

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Preziosi enjoyed success and appreciation during his lifetime, with his watercolours exhibited by Prince Carol I of Hohenzollern-Siegmaringen and reproduced in illustrated magazines such as The Illustrated London News and Le Monde Illustre. As a young man, he ignored his father's ambitions and trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, later departing for Istanbul, where he made a series of drawings for the British ambassador. In 1858 he published a chromolithograph album entitled Stamboul, Recollections of Eastern Life. Another album, Souvenir du Caire, came out in 1862 and received praise from the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire.

Marrying a Greek woman, the artist settled in Istanbul. At the World Exhibition of 1867 in Paris, his works were given a prominent position in the Turkish pavilion. Capitalising on his excellent knowledge of oriental languages, Preziosi worked as a translator for the British and Greek Embassies, and it was in this capacity that he seems to have made his first contact with Romanian officials. In 1868 and 1869, he made two trips to Romania, invited by Prince Carol I. The Romanian prince, delighted with his watercolours, organised a nine-day public display in the halls of the National Museum. In all, Preziosi created 255 works on Romanian themes for the prince and for other Romanian families.

Little is known about Preziosi's life following his return to Turkey, except that he died in a hunting accident. The number of his clients probably decreased, as photographic techniques were improving and the Orient was losing its appeal, due to Turkey's westernisation. After his death, he was forgotten until 1934, when his images of Bucharest were presented again to the public. In 1985, an important exhibition organised by London`s Victoria and Albert Museum was dedicated to him.

A marvelous technician who was capable of painting up to 12 watercolours during a cruise on the Danube, Preziosi created works which are vivid, fresh and accurate, and which have provided a first-hand source for historians and anthropologists. The current exhibition was organised at the initiative of Museum of Bucharest Director Ionel Ionita and of art historian Adrian-Silvan Ionescu, who has gathered new information about Preziosi and located paintings scattered among several museums. While selections from his work have appeared previously in exhibitions and albums dedicated to 19th century Romania, the artist is at last gaining deserved recognition of his work as a whole.

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