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An especially superb selection of 44 photographs of Istanbul and surroundings, made by the leading photographers of the Ottoman Empire, the Abdullah Frères in the late 19th century, is accompanied by a contemporary elaborate red Morocco leather folder with gilt details

Place and Year: Pera, Istanbul: Abdullah Frères [last third of the 19th century].
Code: 66213

44 albumen photographs (each 19 x 25 cm / 7.5 x 9.8 inches), originally mounted on blue cards (each 29.5 x 40 cm / 11.6 x 15.7 inches), most of them signed with Abdullah Frères, accompanied by a contemporary des Morocco leather folder with embossed gilt printed title on the cover, adorned internally with elaborate gilt brocade paper, margined in gilt tooling, modern book plate on the inner side of the cover (Very Good, folder hardly noticeable worn).


This is an extraordinary selection of albumen photographs of Istanbul and its surroundings, made by the Abdullah Frères. The photographs showcase the famous buildings of Istanbul, street scenes, people, suburban villas and neighbouring cities, as well as public and private family events.

All the photographs were contemporary mounted on luxury light blue cards, and inserted in a unique, elegant red Morocco leather folder, adorned with gilt tooling and brocade paper.    

The Abdullah Frères were not only the leading photographers in Istanbul in the second half of the 19th century, but also one of the pioneers of Ottoman photography, who excelled through precise chemical process of photography.

The studio was founded in 1858 by Viçen Abdullahyan (1820–1902), a photographer of Armenian descent, whose ancestors moved to Istanbul in the 17th century and were since 1701 members of the Armenian catholic community. They earned their wealth in silk trade.

Viçen Abdullahyan (later known as Abdullah Şükrü after converting to Islam) learned the modern chemical process of photography when working as an apprentice for a German photographer and chemist named Rabach, who came to the Ottoman Empire with a German Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800 - 1891) to document the Crimean War (1853-1856) - the first war to be photographed. After the end of the war, in 1856 Rabach decided to stay in Istanbul and open a studio for photography. Viçen learned from him photographic processing, retouching the photos and photographing on the field.

The photographic genre, developed in the Rabach’s studio, was one of the first ones in the Ottoman Empire, which took subjects from the daily life and streets of Istanbul, instead of serving the military purposes.

When Rabach moved back to Germany in 1858, Viçen took over his studio in Beyazid, and was soon joined by his two brothers Hovsep Abdullahyan (1830–1908), and Kevork Abdullahyan (1839–1918), who had returned from Venice, where he was studying art at the Armenian Mourad Raphaelian School.

The Abdullah Frères constantly improved their photography, and have travelled twice to Paris to receive additional education.

During the four decades of their work, the Abdullah Frères achieved a level of one of the world’s leading photographers and in 1863, Sultan Abdulaziz declared the Abdullah Frères as the official court photographers and Outstanding Artists of the City.

In 1886, at the request of the Khedive Mohamed Tewfik Pasha in Egypt, they opened a branch in Cairo, where they spent most of the time of the following nine years. Upon their return to Istanbul they have lost most of their fame and privileges. They closed their studio in 1899.

The Abdullah Frères took most of their subjects from Constantinople and its surroundings, with views of the streets, palaces, and events. They were also specialised in portrait photography, commemorating common people from the streets of Istanbul, as well as nobility and famous foreigners, such as Mark Twain.


References: Gábor ÁGOSTON - Bruce Alan MASTERS, Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, 2009, p. 461; Ken JACOBSON, Odalisques & Arabesques: Orientalist Photography 1839 – 1925, London / Quaritch 2007, pp. 197 – 199; Engin ÖZENDEN, Abdullah Frères. Ottoman Court Photographers, Yapi Kredi Art / Istanbul 1998.