THE MOSQUE OF RÜSTEM PASHA, CONSTANTINOPLE
signed R. Ernst. lower right
oil on panel
92 by 71cm., 36 by 28in.
Richard Green, London
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 24 March 1982, lot 128
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above
London, The Fine Art Society Ltd, Eastern Encounters, 1978, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue
The Orientalists, Academy Editions, London, 1979, no. 46, catalogued & illustrated
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes: peintres voyageurs, 1828-1908, Paris, 1983, p. 229, catalogued & illustrated
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 74, catalogued & illustrated; pp. 79-80, discussed
Walter B. Denny, 'Quotations in and out of Context: Ottoman Turkish Art and European Orientalist Painting', in Muqarnas, vol. X, 1993, p. 221, discussed and illustrated
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes, peintres voyageurs 1828-1908, Paris, 2001, pp. 254-55, catalogued & illustrated
James Parry, Orientalist Lives: Western Artists in the Middle East 1830-1920, Cairo & New York, p. 181, cited
This painting occupies something of a unique position in Ernst's oeuvre in that, unlike many of his compositions which are amalgams of architectural details from different locations, it depicts an immediately recognisable place: the Rüstem Pasha mosque in Istanbul, designed by Sinan, master architect to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66). The Rustem Pasha mosque’s most striking feature is its extensive Iznik tiles, so strikingly captured by Ernst in his painting. The tiles adorn the walls, piers, mihrab (sacred niche), and minbar (pulpit) of the mosque's interior, in a dizzying pattern of stylised and more relaxed free-flowing floral and foliate designs.
In this painting Ernst takes delight in recording the precise patterns of these tiles where they are most lavishly displayed, namely on the qibla, the wall that faces Mecca, and towards which two worshippers are seen at prayer. The scallop-patterned mihrab, flanked by Ottoman candlesticks, is located, as always, to the left of the minbar. Rather than faithfully depicting the interior of the Mosque of Rüstem Pasha, Ernst has taken considerable artistic licence here, substituting the door to the steps leading up to the imam's pulpit (seen in Gérôme's interpretation of the subject, fig. 1) for a rug wall hanging, and placing in front of it an ornate mother-of-pearl inlaid kürsü throne-like chair. Walter B. Denny (op. cit.) identified both this chair and the tiled pier behind it as being drawn from the Yeni Valide Mosque in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul; however in the present work Ernst combines the elements. In the foreground, a seated elder reads the Koran, apparently oblivious to the worshippers.
Like fellow Austrian emigré artists Ludwig Deutsch and Jean Discart working in Paris, Ernst was strongly influenced by the academic style of Jean-Léon Gérôme, placing great value on the minute observation of light as well as the architectural setting and all the details within it: the fabrics, costumes, furniture, and the physiognomies of the human figures. The Mosque of Rüstem Pasha, Constantinople, in which the smooth tiled walls reflecting the warm evening sunlight contrast with the patterned Ottoman rugs, the rich pink of the seated reader's silk robe, and the rich wood tones of the inlaid furniture, is an artful composition tour de force intended to dazzle a western audience fascinated by the Orient.