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Flights of fantasy

Lithin Ricci and her rainbow house on the Golden Horn

The artist Lithian Ricci has rescued a dilapidated old house on the Golden Horn – and transformed it into a magical work of art. Berrin Torolsan is dazzled. Photographs: Monica Fritz

When the Italian artist Lithian Ricci arrived in Istanbul in 2013, it was for her exhibition at the Istanbul Biennial, Dreamlike Perceptions. Little did she know it would become her adopted city. “I went around on my motorbike and I fell in love with it,” she recalls. Above all, it was the slightly Venetian air of the old quarters of Fener and Balat on the Golden Horn that appealed. Some houses had become workshops. A few were stylishly restored by architects and artists, and the area was gently evolving into something more bohemian. But many were abandoned, derelict, crying out for love and attention and a new generation of owners.

A successful painter in the fantasy-narrative tradition of Pittura Colta (Cultured Painting), a movement born in Italy in 1979, Ricci exhibits frequently in Italy and elsewhere, having originally studied architecture in London. Lost in the Old City’s rambling backstreets, down a cul-de-sac, a three-storey house caught her eye. It turned out to have a magnificent view over the Golden Horn. The owner, an elderly Jewish lady, had long since decided she had had enough of living in old houses and moved into a modern flat. She was happy to sell. After lying empty for years, the house was in a sad way: a catapecchia (shack), Ricci says bluntly. It badly needed a caring hand. She would be that hand. It took three years of seemingly endless bureaucracy and the support of two Turkish architects to obtain permits to restore the house and resolve the endless building issues. Travelling back and forth between home in Milan and Istanbul, she managed to rebuild the house using traditional techniques and materials, and bring it back to life.

Disappointingly, listed-house regulations dictated a white exterior (it had been orange when she found it). To compensate, she decided to paint the interior all the colours of the rainbow: radiant reds, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The house became her canvas. She painted, stencilled, illustrated and gilded – even furniture was given coats of brilliant hand-mixed colour, all set off by a subtle greyish satin patina applied to the wooden floors, stairs and ceilings.

The generously proportioned spaces have become joyful, inviting, intriguing chambers. With sunshine pouring in from the many windows, it is like entering a rainbow – much like Ricci’s own dreamlike canvases. The artist is proud of her work. She loves her house, and the way the energy of the Golden Horn unleashes her creativity.

For further information about Lithian Ricci’s paintings, see*

To read the full article, purchase Issue 63

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Issue 63, 2021 Lure of the Exotic
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 63
  • Mistaken Identities

    A portrait coming up for sale at Sotheby’s in October is one of the finest portrayals of an Ottoman lady of the 16th century. Julian Raby peels away centuries of confusion to establish her true identity – as Süleyman’s wife, the legendary Roxelana

  • Saved by the royal bed

    Defeated by Russia in 1709, Charles XII of Sweden took refuge with the Sultan. Confined to camp, the King sent out Cornelius Loos, his military draughtsman, to capture the wonders of the Ottoman Empire. Only 50 of the drawings Loos brought back survive – rescued from beneath the King’s bed during a riot. Philip Mansel dives into a splendid book on Loos’s eye-opening work, and Robert Ousterhout marvels at his drawings of Ayasofya

  • The Marvellous Eye of the King’s Artist

    Three centuries ago Cornelius Loos, Charles XII’s military draughtsman, captured the atmospheric grandeur of Ayasofya’s interiors with panache and precision. Robert Ousterhout lingers over Loos’s peerless drawings

  • Rome’s Turkish Secret

    In 1833 Horace Vernet, the French Orientalist, created a fabulous ‘Turkish Room’ at the top of a tower in Rome’s Villa Medici. By Paolo Girardelli. Photographs: Daniele Molajoli

  • Going with the Grain

    For many peoples bulgur came before bread. It may now be ultra-fashionable, but versatile, nutritious bulgur was in fact the world’s first processed food. Berrin Torolsan celebrates the revival of this Anatolian staple and its nutty joys with a collection of intriguing recipes

  • The smile that launched a thousand shish

    Ever since it was founded in 1945 on the edge of Istanbul, people have flocked to eat at Beyti’s, the grill house that taught the city the importance of Sunday lunch. The journey, says Andrew Finkel, is always worth the effort

  • Age of innocence

    The astrophotographer Tony Hallas spent an idyllic childhood in 1950s Turkey, where he first marvelled at the night sky. On his recent return, he found hulking cruise ships and Disneyfied destinations. Here, in the first of two articles, he looks back at the Turkey he left behind, and evocative family photographs capture a world waiting to be discovered

Buy the issue
Issue 63, 2021 Lure of the Exotic
£600.00 / $765.34 / 24,628.26 TL
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