Tuesday, 19 July 2016
One of the more extraordinary aspects of old Muslim cities is the way they living co-exist with the dead. Cemeteries are a feature of all old towns from Istanbul to Rabat to Cairo. It isn't always obvious because old Jewish cemeteries are sometimes hidden behind walls as they are at Tangier and Marrakech (and they are in Britain) but Christian and Jewish graves are still there. Frank Brangwyn's view of Istanbul from one of the cemetries at Uskudar across the Bosphorus is one of his most affecting prints. It comes from Yoshijiro Urushibara's Ten woodcuts published in 1924 and less than ten years after the defeat inflicted on the allied armies by Ottoman forces on the Gallipoli peninsula early in 1916 after a year of fighting. (The man with the moustache and the field glasses in the photograph below is Mustafa Kemal, later first president of the Turkish Republic, showing the battlefield to a delegation of writers).
Brangwyn wasn't against the war. One of the eighty propaganda posters he produced so enraged Kaiser Wilhelm, Brangwyn may well have been in danger if Germany and their Ottoman allies had won. What Urushibara's attitude was, I do not know, but he was a nigh-on perfect collaborator with the British artist. Brangwyn could be hackneyed, trite and unsubtle but Urushibara's printing methods often added nuances that were beyond Brangwyn and no more so than here with his sympathetic use of green.
Oskar Laske must have been in Istanbul around about 1910 or before because Der wunderbare Fischzug was made between 1911 and 1914. It may not look like Istanbul or anywhere near there but, although the subject comes from the New testament, the etching shows the kind of tower used by Turkish fishermen along the shore of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous. This print turned up in excellent condition on British ebay some years ago and the only person who wanted it was me. I can tell you the image above doesn't do Laske's work any justice. I include one of his watercolours of the city.
What I like about Emma Bormann's view of Istanbul (below) is the way it avoids the common western depiction of the oriental city as a warren of narrow streets teaming with people. It often is, but that isn't the point! And so far as I'm concerned, the Orient begins at Budapest. And in case you don't believe me, keep in mind the way someone once described Naples: 'The only oriental city without a European quarter'.