Odalisques blog

The Female Slave Market in Constantinople (1 Mar)
From the slave market to the sultan's bedchamber (17 Feb)
Buying a new slave for your harem (4 Feb)
Odalisquian books list now on Odalisques.com (29 Jan)
Edward Lane's descriptions and drawings of female clothing (27 Jan)
more posts...


"The Arab Scribe" by J.F. Lewis, 1852
"The Bath" by J.L. Gerome, in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
"Odalisque" by Max Nonnenbruch
"By order of the sultan" by Antonio Fabres
"Idle Moments" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1875
more pictures...


more books...

© Tanos

Francesc Masriera and Maria Fortuny

Posted by Tanos on Mon 8 Apr 13, 9:49 PM

I've blogged about mia and I going to Barcelona last weekend, and as I mentioned, one of the paintings we saw in the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC) was Masriera's "In the presence of the master" from 1891. I originally thought it might depict an ancient Egyptian subject, but I now see it as orientalist by comparing it with some of Masriera's other work. Maria Fortuny's "Odalisque" is usually also in the same gallery in Barcelona so I'll mention it too.

It was the geometrical background and enamelled jewelry which suggested ancient Egypt to me at first. Many of the orientalist artists also painted ancient scenes with similar subjects, such as Normand's The White Slave so there is some overlap between the two.

However, Masriera's 1889 "A harem beauty" is clearly an orientalist image, with the octagonal table and brass tableware used by artists as a shorthand to give that context of 19th century Turkey or Egypt. The red and gold slippers, and the rug/carpet on the wall and divan are almost identical, and above all the metallic head dress appears to be same item in both images. It looks like a mixture of the metal head pieces that are worn by some belly dancers now, laid over assuit, which is an Egyptian cloth with strands of silver woven into it.

Masriera's "La Favorita" of 1881 seems to be almost the same pose as "In the presence of the master".

One thing that still bothered me was the Presence's title. In Catalan it is given as "En presencia del senyor" and that's usually translated into English as "In the presence of the Lord", which makes it sound religious. In Castillian it's "En presencia de su Senor", which becomes "In the presence of her Lord". But Senyor/Senor can also be "master" rather than "lord" in both languages. So my best guess is she is a harem slave coming into the presence of her owner, with her plunging neckline revealing her breasts to underline her sexual subservience to him. There may also be a tear on her right cheek and her lips look as if they're trembling. Maybe this is her first time? Or perhaps his previous attentions are all too fresh in her memory? Or are they tears of joy at being noticed again?

Finally, Maria Fortuny's "Odalisque" is normally on display a couple of rooms away from Masriera's "Presence" in MNAC. It shows an odalisque is naked apart from her jewels, laid out on a divan for the pleasure of her master who is playing a musical instrument himself. He seems rather absorbed by his music, and she appears to be reaching out for his attention.

Edited Mon 8 Apr 13, 11:04 PM