Le Conteur populaire, Beirut signed 'De Mango', dated '2 Maggio 1921' and inscribed 'Pera' l.r. oil on canvas 79.5 x 99 cm. (31¼ x 39 in.)
Provenance: A private collection, Paris.
Born in Bari in Italy and educated at the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples, de Mango first experienced the Orient when he travelled to Syria in 1874. He settled in Beirut and gave painting lessons at the local Jesuit College. While there, he completed a large number of canvases including landscapes and seascapes as well as paintings on religious subjects.
Having left Beirut nine years later, de Mango lived in Egypt and Tripoli before moving to Istanbul in 1883, where he lived for almost fifty years. He ran a studio in Pera (the ancient name for Beyoglu) and frequented and held one-man shows at the Societa Operaia and the Casa d'Italia. As well as painting his new surroundings, de Mango often revisited his old compositions of Damascus, Beirut and Egypt, which he sold to his Levantine customers. The above subject is the most important composition of his early Beirut period, with the first version of Le conteur populaire being painted in 1882.
Le conteur populaire depicts a storyteller, regaling the people gathered around him with tales of the legendary hero Antar. Antar was a 6th century pre-Islamic Arab warrior of half African descent, who was famous for his adventurous life and distinguished as a great poet. Antara was the son of Shaddâd, a well respected member of the tribe of 'Abs, and of Zabaibah, an African slave. He was rejected as illegitimate, but when the tribe needed his assistance to fend off another tribe in battle, Shaddâd acknowledged Antara as his son, and granted him freedom. Antara fell in love with his cousin Abla, and sought to marry her despite his status as a slave. Antara's poems tell of his adventures in battle and in love. They are published in Wilhelm Ahlwardt's The Diwans of the six ancient Arabic Poets (London, 1870).
The 1882 version of the above work (41 x 53 cm.) was exhibited in 2005-2006 as part of the Leonardo de Mango exhibition at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul and then at the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari, and was organised by the Turkish Department of National Palaces.
We are grateful to Erol Makzume, author of Leonardo de Mango: An Orientalist in Beyoðlu, for his assistance in this catalogue entry.
Literature: D. Paulvé & M. Chesnais, Les Mille et une Nuits (Paris, 2004) illus. pg.12.