Felice Schiavoni (Italian, 1803-1881) Portrait of Ropen Carabit

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Lot 62P
Felice Schiavoni
(Italian, 1803-1881)
Portrait of Ropen Carabit

Sold for £ 43,812 (US$ 54,957) inc. premium
Felice Schiavoni (Italian, 1803-1881)
Portrait of Ropen Carabit
signed and dated 'Schiavoni/Ft 1824' (centre right)
oil on canvas
76.2 x 55.9cm (30 x 22in).


  • We are grateful to Professor Fernando Mazzocca for confirming the attribution to Felice Schiavoni on the basis of photographs.

    Felice Schiavoni was born in Trieste and was taught to paint by his father, the renowned artist Natale Schiavoni (1777-1858). He subsequently attended the Brera Academy in Milan, and was later awarded a prize and medal by Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia. During his artistic career, he completed a large number of commissions for Russian patrons in Venice, and also painted altarpieces for churches in Trieste, Istria and Chioggia.

    Schiavoni painted the present lot, a majestic and ceremonial portrait, in 1824. The sitter is 24-year-old Ropen Carabit, a native of Arabkir, depicted in Ottoman-style dress. As Master of Stables, in February 1824, Carabit journeyed from Aleppo in Syria to the Port of Trieste; his task was to accompany eight Arabian horses, a gift from the Imperial Austrian Royal Consul in Aleppo to His Majesty the Emperor and King.

    Arab horses were a prized possession in Europe and coveted by Imperial stables for use as cavalry mounts and personal steeds for monarchs (memorably, Napoleon Bonaparte rode an Arab stallion called Marengo). Wealthy individuals stationed in Aleppo had access to Arab horses through the Bedouin Tribes. As John A Shoup III notes in his book The history of Syria, 'Aleppo was also an important market for Bedouin horses and quickly became a supplier for Europeans wanting to improve European breeds of horses, particularly for cavalry mounts. European consuls paid high prices for Arabian stallions brought in by Bedouins, often fresh from tribal raids'1.

    In 1784, Raffaele de Picciotto, a Jewish Merchant from Livorno, was appointed as Imperial Royal Honorary consul in Aleppo; the first of the longest serving family to act as consuls to the Emperor, a line only ending in 1894; he was appointed a Knight of the Austrian empire in 1806. Throughout the 19th century, the de Picciotto family also served as representatives in Aleppo of many other states and countries, including Tuscany, Russia, Prussia, Holland, Belgium and the United States. One member of the family, Moise de Picciotto, had a diplomatic uniform for five different countries, as he was consul in Aleppo for Austria, Prussia, Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium. 2

    A Certificate of Donation dated 25 November 1805, recorded in the de Picciotto family archives, demonstrates that an entourage of eight Arabian horses had been gifted to the Emperor ('His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria') from Raffaele de Picciotto, prior to the present lot being painted. Raffaele emigrated to Tiberias in 1818, and therefore the repeat of such a generous and impressive gift was most likely ordered by Raffaele's son, Elijah, who took over as Austrian consul from his brother Ezra, who had tragically died in the earthquake of Aleppo in 1822.

    As subjects of European monarchs, the consuls held unique positions in Aleppo. They were primarily used by Aleppo factions to communicate with the Ottoman authorities, other local factions as well as the foreign governments they represented.4 Notably, the consuls were exempted from Ottoman taxes and were charged with giving protection to Austrian citizens. In addition, they could also assist 'fellow Aleppans gain the rights of foreign nationals in the Ottoman Empire'. 3 The power and prosperity of the Austrian Consul (especially from the many debts they were owed) allowed them to obtain 'great consideration for the Jews of the city'5. Consuls in Aleppo were sources of information, innovations and useful for hospitality, and in addition there was an established history of providing exotic and rare gifts. Remarkably, in 1668 the French consul sent gazelles, canes and pistachios to Louis XIV's minister Colbert. 6

    Aleppo was a highly influential trading hub at the time, between Iran, Iraq and Europe. Its central location served as the transit point for goods - especially prior to the opening of the Suez Canal. At a crossroads of trade routes, Aleppo was also a natural destination for travellers. A diary from 1863, written by Bayard Taylor, explores the unique society of Aleppo at the time. He suggests that the 'peculiarity in society is evidently a relic of the formal times, when Aleppo was a semi-Venetian city, and the opulent seat of Eastern commerce.' He describes the etiquette and procedure for foreign visitors arriving in Aleppo: 'formerly, when a traveller arrived here, he was expected to call upon the different Consuls, in the order of their established precedence: the Austrian first, English second, French third, &c. After this, he was obliged to stay at home several days, to give the Consuls an opportunity of returning the visits, which they made in the same order. There was a diplomatic importance about all his movements, and the least violation of etiquette, through ignorance or neglect, was the town talk for days.' From his account it would appear that the Aleppan consulates provided 'universal and cordial hospitality'7.

    Ropen Carabit could have taken a number of different routes from Aleppo to reach Trieste (across land or by using established sea trade routes): in 1846, a French Consul estimated the time required for moving textiles from Switzerland to Baghdad (before steamships and the Suez Canal). Within this trip, there was a calculation from Trieste to Aleppo - first, from Trieste to Beirut by sailboat the estimated time was 25 days and then Beirut to Aleppo, approximately 10 Days.8

    The completion of the portrait by Schiavoni, in Trieste, undoubtedly marked the successful arrival of the Master of Stables and his fine horses. In 1816, Natale Schiavoni accepted an invitation from Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria, to take up residency at court in Vienna. He stayed there until 1821, painting the Imperial family and the aristocracy. He may have been the link for Felice to receive this commission in Trieste, especially as father and son worked closely together.

    1 John A Shoup III, The History of Syria, Santa Barbara, 2018, p. 78.
    2 Philip Mansel, Aleppo, The Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City, London, 2016, p. 38.
    3 Walter P. Zenner, A global community; The Jews from Aleppo, Syria, Wayne State University Press, 2000, p. 23.
    4 Mansel, 2016, p. 38.
    5 Mansel, 2016, p. 38.
    6 Mansel, 2016, p. 17.
    7 Mansel, 2016, p. 171.
    8 Charles Issawi, The Fertile Crescent 1800-1914 A Documentary Economic History, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 138.
Felice Schiavoni (Italian, 1803-1881) Portrait of Ropen Carabit
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