I am with them now. The drum is coming, and behind it the renowned Armenian who expertly plays the zurna. The dance begins and the young men link arms and arrange themselves in rows waiting for the beat of the drum. And then slowly, their movement becomes more exuberant, they get faster, with tiny steps the tiny swaying movements begin. One, two, three spins are completed, the music stops, and they throw themselves onto the stools and begin to gulp down their first rakis. And I observe everything...'
Painted circa 1899, Fausto Zonaro’s Bayram (the Turkish for 'feast' or 'celebration') is an exciting re-discovery – never before offered on the open market, it is the slightly smaller of two large-scale versions of this street festival Zonaro painted, the other being in a private collection. Both works can be seen hanging on the walls of Zonaro’s studio in Constantinople, in photographs taken by the artist’s wife Elise shortly before their return to Italy in 1910 following the deposition of Sultan Abdülhamid II, to whom Zonaro had been court painter (fig. 1).
Situated in the Kurtuluş district (then named Tatavla) of Istanbul, the scene depicts the local celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, the feast which celebrates the breaking of the Ramadan Fast. Traditionally-attired men dance a joyous jig to the accompaniment of musicians amid a crowd of onlookers. Zonaro vividly describes being swept up with the Bayram celebrations in his memoirs (Makzume & Trevigne, Twenty Years..., pp. 108-9), so it is perhaps unsurprising to find the artist himself making an appearance in his painting, wearing the fedora to the right. Given the diversity of communities living in Istanbul, their feasts provided Zonaro with a continuous and ever-changing sequence of events to be witnessed and captured in paint:
'My young friend, Ardeshes, knew everything and would come to see me early in the morning: "There is a fete at such-and-such a place, shall we go?" I never said "No!" to anything, since I was certain that I could come across a new scene that would attract my curiosity, and I would set off with either my paint-box or my camera' (quoted in Makzume & Trevigne, Twenty Years..., p. 109)
For more than a decade, until 1910, Zonaro's 'Galleria Zonaro' in Akaretler at Acaraiti Senie 50 became a popular meeting place for local people and foreigners interested in art and culture, where they could meet the artist or view and even buy his paintings that lined the walls. After leaving Constantinople, Zonaro settled and spent the rest of his life in San Remo on the Italian Riviera, where the present work was purchased by the grandfather of the current owner. Its appearance on the market coincides with a major retrospective of Zonaro’s work at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence from April to June 2015.
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