Albanian painters continued to paint religious motifs according to the canons of post-Byzantine art until the mid-nineteenth century, and they almost failed to create even an image of the real world, of everyday life, or of a landscape of the country’s nature. This essential lack of Albanian history and culture was filled by foreign painters.
During the fifteenth century, exactly when the Albanian people were in the eye of the storm, and together with other peoples of the Balkans they had to fight against the Ottomans. This increased the attention of foreign painters to Albania. War, resistance, emigration during the Ottoman occupation, were the themes of most paintings in those years. The oldest are portraits of Skanderbeg, such as paintings, The Siege of Scutari by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) which is preserved in the Palace of the Doges in Venice. It is thought that Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) made the first portrait during the period in which Skanderbeg was in Italy to help Ferdinand of Naples.
Foreign painters were fascinated by the colorful clothes, the landscapes, and also by the pride of the Albanians. Some famous painters are Camille Corot (1796-1875) with Albanian Girl, Eugene Delacroix (1796-1863) with the painting Albanian Couple, Leon Gerome (1824-1904) who made about 30 paintings with Albanian themes.
Gerome’s paintings are among the most beautiful of all those that have to do with Albania, among all foreign painters. Englishman Edward Lear, during his two trips to Albania between 1848-1849, painted about 100 photographs. Among the various paintings by Lear with Albanian theme, Gjirokastra lithography and watercolor Bahçallek Bridge, are important not only for artistic values, but also because they describe two monuments of Albanian culture with many values that no longer exist today: Gjirokastra Water Supply and Bridge on the Drini, near Shkodra. Lear’s work is the only evidence of these important monuments.
Lear was very fascinated by Albania, the people and the folk costumes. In his paintings we have represented the wonderful Albanian landscapes and there are almost always people dressed in traditional clothes.
All these foreign painters helped bring a life from that period as there is not a single painting from the realistic period left by Albanian painters./Mario Bellizzi/