Fossati

by sarahkburke

Gaspare Fossati, Aya Sofia, Constantinople: as recently restored by order of H. M. the sultan Abdul-Medjid. From the original drawings by Chevalier Gaspare Fossati. Lithographed by Louis Haghe, esq. London: R. & C. Colnaghi & Co., 1852.

Brothers Gaspare (1809-1883) and Guiseppe (1822-1891) Fossati, were born in Switzerland and trained as architects in Italy.  In 1833 Gaspare moved to St. Petersburg, and in 1836 he became the official court architect.  In 1837 he moved to Istanbul to plan the new Russian embassy; he stayed to work on other projects including restoration work and original architecture, often collaborating with Giuseppe.

In 1847 Sultan Abdülmecid (1823-1861) commissioned the Fossati brothers to restore Hagia Sophia, a project which included removing the plaster covering the Byzantine mosaics. Approximately 800 workers were employed for about 2 years; they repaired cracks, strengthened foundations, renovated mosaics, and renovated the mihrab and the minbar.

In 1849 the restored building was revealed.  The brothers continued their career as architects in Istanbul, finally returning to Switzerland in 1858.

Where are the mosaics?  Once restored, the mosaics were covered again.  Gaspare planned to issue another book documenting the mosaics, but he never did.

Dumbarton Oaks owns two copies of the first edition of this work, which was the first modern documentation of Hagia Sophia for a Western audience.  It includes interior and exterior views.

These are colored lithographs, or chromolithographs.  Chromolithography, a planographic process developed mid-19th century, is a type of color printing from drawings on stone.  The image is transferred, one color at a time, to paper (by means of a printing press).  Images with many colors could make use of dozens of stones.


Gaspare Fossati (trained as an architectural draftsman) created the watercolors from which these chromolithographs were produced.

Louis Haghe (1806-1885) was a prominent Victorian lithographer, based in England as part of the firm of Day & Haghe, “Lithographers to the Queen.”  He worked on many of the ethnographic, topographic, and architectural publications we associate with the mid-19th century.

Owen Jones (1809-1874), an English architect famous for his studies of Alhambra and his role in the creation of the South Kensington Museum/V&A, is credited with designing the title page (above).

Colnaghi & Co., the publishers, date back to 18th-century Paris.  The London firm published and sold prints throughout the 19th century.  Colnaghi’s modern-day manifestation is as an art dealership.