Page Two
   The French artist Leon Belly first traveled to the Near East in 1850 as part of an archeological expedition. He was only 22 years old yet he had the important job of rendering the ruins and landscapes they encountered. He would make his own journeys beginning in 1855 in which he spent a year in old Cairo before traveling to the Sinai desert. Later with artists such as Gerome he would explore the Nile valley. On these trips his personal style would evolve that emphasized the vastness of the landscape.

   Like many who made the journey to the Holy Land he was spiritually changed. In his most famous work 'Pilgrims going to Mecca' he painted three figures representing Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus in the picture to illustrate the universality of religion.

'Buffaloes bathing in the Nile' by Leon Belly, French. Oil, 1861.
'The Rais' by Mohammed Racim, Algerian. Oil and gold leaf, 1931.
   Mohammed Racim was a 20th century artist who is known as the father of Algerian minuatures. This painting is less than one foot square!

   From it's early coastal colonization by the Phoenicians in 1200 BC Algeria had always had an important role in sea born trade in the region. It's native inhabitants the Berbers had formed the kingdom of Numidia and played power politics with the Carthaginians and Romans in 200 BC. Later in 1160 AD they unified North Africa and Spain under their rule in the kingdom of the Almoravids. Much of Spain's culture, art and architecture derive from North Africa's influence.

    This painting shows a 17th century Algerian captain, an independent ally of the Ottomans who asked for their help in driving out the Spanish from the coastal cities that they had captured following the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain.

   The Bashi-Bazouks were mercenary troops of the Ottoman empire. The pleated skirt and light skin shows that this chieftain is of Balkan origin. These skirts are still worn today as ceremonial dress in the Greek military.
   While Gerome could take artistic license in his painting he was also capable of work that was so accurate in recording detail that scholars felt that it could be used as an ethnological record.

Detail from Turkish lady and the Zeibeck. Photo c.1875
'Bashi-Bazouk Chieftain' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1881.
'Adile Hanim' by Amadeo Preziosi, Italian. Watercolor, 1854.
   Frequently artists were welcomed as guests by the well to do families of the region. Turkey was extremely cosmopolitan and the normal Islamic rules against human representation in art were relaxed so that individuals could get their portrait done.

   By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Ottoman empire was stagnant and internal stresses were on the verge of breaking it apart. Sultan Mahmoud II who ruled from 1808-39 sought to introduce reforms that would hold the empire together but the days of Ottoman rule were numbered. While Ottoman intellectuals sought to adopt western ideas and institutions as a way to maintain Ottoman rule; the ethnic and religious minorities of the empire sought to adopt these same ideas as tools toward self liberation.

   Today we take for granted the ideals of democracy, free will and self determination for a people. But these ideals were new and had to be embraced and fought for before they became a reality; struggles that continue to this day.

   Arthur Melville was an avant-garde Scottish painter known for his wild watercolor technique that emphasized intense colors and blownout whites. When he was 28 years old he traveled to Egypt and lived in Cairo for two years. In 1882 while traveling cross country by horse on a trip from Bagdad to the Black Sea he was twice attacked by bandits. The second time he was captured, robbed, stripped and left to die naked of exposure and thirst, he was saved by the local Iraqis and was later able to help the authorities hunt down and execute the robbers.

   The local Pasha liked Melville but was suspicious that he might be a British spy. Melville was detained for several weeks and during this period witnessed scenes such as the one in this painting.

'Awaiting an Audience with the Pasha' by Arthur Melville, Scottish. Watercolor, 1882.
'An Almeh' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1882.
   The eighteenth century saw the American Bill of Rights and the French Rights of Man. The nineteenth century saw these rights codified into law. Slavery was abolished in the European colonies and in America the Civil War forcefully decided the issue once and for all.

   The women's suffrage movement started in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and spread like wildfire through out America and Europe. Everywhere the issues of class, race and gender were being debated. For an artist to paint the portrait of an unglamorous street prostitute would have been unheard of a century before, yet with her direct gaze this 'Almeh' tells us that regardless of what we think of her, she has played the hand that fate dealt her.

   For the first time artists were painting the least privileged members of society in both the Middle East and in Europe and as the general public viewed these images they examined their own values and beliefs.

'Two young Constantine Jewesses rocking a Child' by Theodore Chasseriau, French. Oil, 1851
    Chasseriau entered the studio of Ingres at the age of eleven. Ingres predicted he would become the Napoleon of painting but Chasseriau later left Ingres to study with his arch rival Delacroix. Because of this training Chasseriau combined the attention to line and detail of the Academics with the bold color of the Romantics.

   While in Paris Chasseriau met and made friends with the caliph of Constantine, who was visiting Paris. Later Chasseriau was able to visit Constantine as a guest of the caliph. A fortress city situated on cliffs surrounded by gorges; the emperor Constantine had renamed it after himself. Chasseriau loved it there and wrote that it held "invaluable treasures for an artist." Like many painters Theodore Chasseriau found it easier to paint Jewish subjects than Muslims.

   Disease was a great killer in the nineteenth century. After years of bad health which started in 1852 Chasseriau died at the age of thirty seven.

   This beautiful watercolor by John Frederick Lewis was considered a tour de force by his peers. In fact his friends begged him to take up oil painting because they feared his watercolors would deteriorate with age. Lewis did switch to oils but his watercolors are among the most beautiful in the world.

    Lewis lived in Egypt for ten years and the setting for the painting is in fact his own home in the Ezbekiya district of Cairo. While in Egypt Lewis avoided Europeans as he felt restricted by western customs and company. Like many of the Orientalists he found aspects of Middle Eastern life preferable to that of the West.

 'The Hosh (courtyard) of the house of the Coptic Patriarch, Cairo; the Patriarch is dictating to his secretary dispatches to a convent in the desert, to be conveyed by the Arabs in waiting' by John Frederick Lewis, British. Watercolor, 1864
Page One  Page Two  Page Three  Page Four Page Five  

Page Six  Credits and Links  Message Board