From Morcote to Constantinople. The Fossati brothers at the service of the Sultan


Institute for the History and Theory of Art and Architecture

Start date: 19 June 2022

End date: 29 September 2022

From 19 June to 29 September 2022, the Arab House in Scherrer Park is hosting the exhibition "FROM MORCOTE TO CONSTANTINOPOLI. THE FOSSATI BROTHERS AT THE SERVICE OF THE SULTAN" promoted and sponsored by the Municipality of Morcote to commemorate the brothers and architects from Morcote, Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, who lived in the 19th century and became world-famous for their restoration to the mosque of St. Sophia in Constantinople (1847-49). In the fall, the exhibition will be moved to the town centre of Morcote.

The exhibition will open at the Belvedere at Scherrer Park on Sunday, 19 June at 6 pm, featuring an introductory talk by Prof. Daniela Mondini (Università della Svizzera italiana, Academy of Architecture). From 6:30 pm to 8 pm, guests will be treated to refreshments and the opportunity to participate, in groups of 20 people, in guided tours given by Silvia Calvi of the Arab House, lasting about 20 minutes each. Reservation is required at [email protected]. Tours will continue on Monday, 20 June and Tuesday, 21 June, from 10 am to 12:30 pm. For further details regarding the summer schedule of guided tours, write to [email protected].

The exhibition layout is curated and designed by Morcote's Head of Culture arch. Caterina Hörtig in collaboration with arch. Nicolas Polli and Studio Hörtig of Morcote. The texts are edited by Prof. Daniela Mondini, assisted by Silvia Calvi, a student of the Master's Degree in History of Art and Architecture (MSTAA, USI -Academia di architettura, Mendrisio) and an intern at the Municipality of Morcote; the visuals are edited by Alberto Canepa.

The exhibition, for the first time in Morcote, aims to revive the work of the two brothers through 12 hand-coloured watercolour lithographs preserved at the Morcote Municipality Archives. The artwork comes from Gaspare Fossati's pictorial album "AYA SOFIA CONSTANTINOPLE: AS RECENTLY RESTORED BY ORDER OF H.M. THE SULTAN ABDUL MEDJID." The volume was commissioned by Sultan Abdul Medjid (1839-60) and published in London in 1852 by the Colnaghi Typography to give the maximum publicity to the restoration of the St. Sophia Mosque carried out by Gaspare and Giuseppe between 1847 and 1849. Although little known compared to the architectural work, the graphic and pictorial artwork is actually of primary importance to Gaspare Fossati in Constantinople, who often used it to document his activities. In the Hagia Sophia album, the artist illustrates the restored mosque and includes four viewscapes that form a 360-degree landscape of the city (plates 20-23), in which he depicts other projects of his, such as the Ottoman University (plate 20).

After about 20 years in Constantinople, Gaspare and Giuseppe returned to Morcote in 1858 and 1859, respectively. In 1865 Gaspare built his own house, in front of his father's, on Morcote's lakefront (today Hotel Carina). However, the Fossati family did not break ties and business with the East. In Morcote, the Fossati family retained a marked taste for Orientalism, manifested in the Turkish salon they set up in 1878 in their father's house, no longer extant and partly preserved in the Cantonal Archives in Bellinzona. Other evidence is the family tomb, erected by Gaspare in 1869 at the entrance to the Cemetery in the (neo)Byzantine style, with its exposed terracotta bricks, Moorish arch and capitals, an image of which is displayed in the exhibition in an unpublished drawing signed by Gaspare. Gaspare died in Morcote in 1883 and Giuseppe in Milan in 1891, but both are buried in the family tomb.

In Constantinople, the Fossati brothers also devoted themselves to the construction of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (1841-43), the first Catholic building erected after the proclamation of the Reforms (Tanzimat), for the Dominican community in the Galata district. Despite declining numbers and financial difficulties, today the community of Sts. Peter and Paul is alive and dynamic. With the support of the Swiss Consulate General in Istanbul, a campaign is currently underway to restore the church and part of the historic outbuildings. A fundraiser has been launched to safeguard and transfer this important cultural heritage to future generations. For more information or write to: [email protected].