Page Five

The music playing is 'Tanz des Kelim'
courtesy of
Roman Seehon

'Arms Dealers' by Giulio Rosati, Italian. Watercolor.
   Jiulio Rosati was one of the brilliant Italian watercolorists. While oil panting took time and could really only be done under studio conditions, watercolors could be completed quickly and even painted outside. Because of this artists traveling in the middle east found them extremely useful.

   The detail in this and other watercolors is quite different from the soft, impressionistic images that we normally associate with the medium today.

'Bashi-Bazouks singing' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1868.
   This is a scene that Gerome very easily could have witnessed. The Bashi-Bazouks were mercenary troops drawn from all over the Ottoman empire. They weren't paid but lived on legalized plunder. Following Ottoman practice troops such as these from Albania would be stationed in countries such as Egypt where they had no ties to land or family.

   The most famous Albanian of the nineteenth century was Mohammed Ali Pasha, an officer in the Ottoman army who rose to become the ruler of Egypt. The Albanians are descendants of the Illyrians, an ancient race whom Alexander the Great fought against.

'Three Fellahs' by Charles Gleyre, Swiss. Watercolor, 1835.
   The 'fellahs' or farmers were the backbone of Egypt. For thousands of years they tilled the fields that provided the grain that fed the Mediterranean world. When the harvest in Egypt was bad the Roman emperors feared riots in the streets of Rome. Throughout Egypt's history they had been exploited by the powerful.

   Gleyre was struck by how hard the women worked and how poorly they were treated. An ardent Republican, the political party that had drafted the Rights of Man 46 years earlier, he stood for the common man. In fact when Louis Napoleon swept to power in 1848 he quit exhibiting in the national galleries in protest.

'An Almeh with pipe' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1873.
   Everyone loved to paint prostitutes. You can see by the broken lattice work in the top left of the painting that this wasn't the best part of town.
   How hard was it to paint people in the Middle East? It varied. The artist Henri Regnault was befriended by a Moroccan girl named Aischa Chamma who convinced Muslim women to pose for him. Chasseriau was able to paint Jewish subjects more easily but William Holman Hunt had to get the local rabbi's permission before he could paint any Jewish subjects for his famous painting, 'The finding of the Savior in the Temple.
Fathma, Tunisian beauty c. 1910 by R. Lehnert
   Sometimes artists were shot at or confronted in the streets by angry mobs. On the other hand the Shah of Iran sat for his portrait by Jules Laurens and discussed art with him and Mohammad Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, allowed David Wilkie to paint him. The Turkish painter, Osman Hamdi Bey, studied with Gerome and founded both the first painting academy and archeological institute in Istanbul.

'Bride arriving in a village, Biskra, Algeria' by Philippe Pavy, French. Oil, 1889.
   A French artist, Philippe Pavy and his brother Eugene traveled and painted North Africa and the Near East. This painting depicts a bridal party going to the grooms village for the wedding. The young bride rides in the canopy on the camel's back and is accompanied by her family and kin playing drums and musical instruments.

Click the image to see the entire painting

   Delacroix had a wonderfully sumptuous style as can be seen in this painting. It's important to understand that the Orientalist movement spanned over a century. Artists like Gerome and Renoir came a generation after Delacroix and Gleyre who in their turn had followed artists such as Horace Vernet. Because of this there was a continual process of rediscovering the Middle East. Also, interest in Orientalism came in waves rather than a continuous flow. Each new generation of artists were to make their mark on the scene.

   The desire to dive in and explore became the hallmark of the Orientalists. So popular did Orientalism become that many artists who had never left Europe painted Oriental themes, but only those who actually traveled to the middle east can be considered true Orientalists.

'Women of Algiers in their Room' by Eugene Delacroix, French. Oil, 1834.
'Lilium Auratum' by John Frederick Lewis, British. Watercolor, 1871.
   We owe many things to the Orientalists. The beautiful clothing of these two women attests to the textile industry of the time. Interest by botanists in the region means that we now enjoy such plants as Oleanders and Agapanthas in western gardens. In the 20th century the Art Deco movement was inspired in part by the discovery of the tomb of Toutenkhomen.

   The Orientalists gave us our first comprehensive exposure to the Middle East since the crusades when thousands of Europeans traveled there. The 19th century saw the origin of Egyptology as a science and the brilliant French linguist Jean-François Champollion translated the hieroglyphics. The restoration of the glory of the ancient world was begun and continues to this day.

   For centuries the West had feared and hated the Islamic world; slowly the Orientalists changed that by portraying Middle Easterners as people rather than as the enemies of Christianity.

   Travel could be dangerous during the nineteenth century. Jules Laurens was only 21 years old when he set out on a governmental geographical mission overland from Turkey to Persia in 1847. He suffered extreme hardship; twelve hours a day on horseback, the danger of cholera from bad water, poor food and weariness made him so sick he had to be tied to his mule; still he drew every night.

   When he reached Tehran he was received by Mohammad Shah Qatar, the Shah of Persia. The ruler liked him and being an amateur painter himself sat for a portrait. Jules instantly became a celebrity and spent some time painting portraits of the Shah's family and being lavishly entertained. Now he was able to travel freely throughout Persia but when the Shah died he had to leave quickly because westerners were no longer safe under the rule of his successor, Nasser al Din Shah.

'Winter in Persia' by Jules Laurens, French. Oil, 1848.
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