The present work depicts a scribe in Constantinople, who is shown seated in a moment of focus, with an absorbed customer. One of the traditional professions in the Middle East, public scribes earned a living by reading as well as writing. They were a necessity in the Ottoman era, when the language used in documents was vastly different to ordinary speech and many were illiterate. As a result, they were respected, educated individuals, in a culture which placed a high value on literacy and the subtleties of elegant calligraphy. The image of the scribe consulting with clients on the street also inspired paintings by Martinus Rørbye, Carl Werner, Fausto Zonaro and Osman Hamdy Bey.
Stanislaus von Chlebowski was born in Podolia, the Ukraine, and began his artistic training at the St. Petersburg Academy. He first travelled to Munich before moving to Paris where he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Chlebowski was appointed Court Painter to the Ottoman empire by the Sultan Abdülaziz sometime after 1864. He was tasked with depicting the chief wars and battles in Ottoman history and at the end of his term, the artist was rewarded with the medal of the Order of Mecidiye, third class. Other notable artists who held this position were Ivan Aivazovsky and Pierre Désiré Guillemet.
Like his friend and teacher Gérôme, Chlebowski made multiple studies from nature; in Turkey and Egypt he drew and painted when walking the streets and when he returned to Paris he drew inspiration from a large collection of oriental craftwork. Chlebowski crucially painted scenes he had witnessed and, in its verisimilitude, the present lot displays a remarkable knowledge of, and sensitivity to, Ottoman culture.