Unknown harem scene
The dramatic conclusion to some act of disobedience or betrayal. An odalisque dressed in delicate transparent gauzes is dragged away to be executed, flogged, or sold. A servant, dressed in a black robe literally crawls on the ground before their master, pleading with him. That he spare her? Or spare her mistress? The master of the harem seems implacable, with another slave draped across his lap, and entertained by musicians who seem to be drawing back in fear from this event.
"The martyr of love" by P.A.A. Leroy
Paul Alexandre Alfred Leroy's painting of a harem owner being overwhelmed by his toys is a timely message as we open our presents - happy Christmas!
"Playing with a kitten" by J.H. Henshall
John Henry Henshall's 1893 painting of two women playing with a kitten is a subtle depiction of little privileges in the harem. The odalisque is dressed in silks and delicate chiffons. Her maid wears cheap printed cotton harem pants and a brightly coloured waistcoat. The odalisque reclines on the divan sofa, after letting her embroidered slippers fall to the tiles. Her barefoot maid sits on that tiled floor, with no shoes of her own to remove. The odalisque wears light silver and gold bangles and anklets. The maid's ankles are belled, her ears are pierced, and her wrists are braceleted - all with [more...
"The Grand Baths at Bursa" by J.L. Gerome, 1883
Gerome painted the public baths in the Turkish city of Bursa using sketches he made there himself (on days when the baths were reserved for men) and female models back in Paris. The baths were an important place for harem women to socialise, gossip, and meet friends. The tall wooden shoes or pattens were worn to protect their feet from hot floors and soap or oil residues from other bathers. The higher status European-looking women were either Turkish wives or expensive slaves imported across the Black Sea, and they would bring their own darker skinned servants and a pair of pattens on their trips [more...
"Booty" by Theodoros Rallis c.1905
Rallis painted a similar painting Turkish Plunder
, twenty years earlier, both showing Balkan girls with their hands tied who are captives of the occupying Turkish forces. Even in the 19th century, women from rebellious provinces were enslaved and found their way into harems as far away as Egypt.
"The Muezzin" by J.L. Gerome, 1879
Five times a day, the man appointed as the muezzin climbed the minaret tower of a mosque and called local Muslims to pray. (Nowadays loudspeakers are used.)
"Slave dealer" by Eduard Ansen Hofmann
A rather frightened slavegirl is made to display her naked body to a prospective buyer. Charles White described a similar scene, although without the nakedness, in "Three Years in Constantinople" from 1844, Volume II, Chapter VII, p.288. Expensive European-looking slaves were trained for months or years and then sold privately, rather than in the open-air slave market. To visit one of these houses, White had to pretend to be a doctor helping a Turk make his choice. My comments are in brackets: [more...
"Namouna" by Adrien Tanoux, 1921
The story of Namouna and Hassan is the subject of a poem by Alfred de Musset and (as Djamileh and Haroun) an opera by Bizet. Hassan was a rich Egyptian who took a new slave girl to his bed every month, before freeing her and purchasing another. When Namouna's turn came to be freed she had fallen in love with her Master and begged to be kept. [more...
"Oriental woman" or "The favourite" by L.R. Falero
I'm not sure of the title for this painting, from the late 19th century. Falero was a Spanish duke but abandoned his family's planned career in the navy and became a painter in France and Britain. Pretty much all of his paintings are of (half) naked girls in some context or another.
"The slave" by J.W. Waterhouse, 1872
A slave dealer waits for a buyer for the first of two girls, who is standing ready to shed her only garment for the customary inspection of her body.
"A Turkish pasha receiving a petition", William Craig, 1806
Craig's engraving shows the stereotype of despotic government and luxury in the Ottoman Empire. A regional governor or pasha receives a request from one of the sultan's subjects. The pasha is seated on a comfortable divan, smoking from a water pipe, and attended by three of his slaves: his male servant is bringing coffee on a tray, while his odalisque and her own servant see to his comfort with a folding fan and a feathered fly whisk. The women's presence reminds us that a rich pasha owns many women who are his sexual property and exist for his pleasure and amusement. [more...
"La toilette" by Frederic Bazille, 1870
Bazille's painting shows the luxury, sensuality, and indulgence of the harem. A favourite odalisque is being washed and dressed (her "Toilette") by two other slaves. She leans back on a fur divan while still naked from bathing. The maid who is stripped to the waist from washing her crouches at her feet to put on her mistress's slippers. A younger girl still in her service rather than their master's, stands and waits with the favourite's embroidered gown. The image is full of erotic hints, from the central odalisque's hand resting on the crouching servant's bare shoulder, to the naked odalisque and [more...
"Combing hair" by Osman Hamdi Bey
Painted by the Turkish artist in about 1900. Osman Hamdi was unusual as a native of the Ottoman Empire who had trained with western orientalist painters like Gerome. His images are a lot more conservative than the French artists and are similar to J.F. Lewis's work from half a century before.
"Turkish Plunder" by Theodoros Rallis, 1885
Also titled "The Captive", Rallis painted this less than ten years after a Bulgarian uprising against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Turks' bashi-bazouk irregular soldiers were accused of many massacres and other atrocities, including seizing Bulgarian girls to be sold into harems. In this painting a young woman stands with her hands bound next to a pile of stolen valuables in a ruined Orthodox Christian church. Rallis painted a similar painting, Booty
, about twenty years later.
"Namouna" by Adrien Tanoux, 1922
Painted by Adrien Tanoux
and located in the Musee des Beaux Arts in Nice. The story of Namouna and
Hassan is the subject of a
poem by Alfred de Musset and (as Djamileh and Haroun) an opera by Bizet.
Hassan was a rich Egyptian who took a new slave girl to his bed every month,
before freeing her and purchasing another. When Namouna's turn came to be freed she had fallen in love with her Master. [more...
"The Turkish Bath" by Ingres, 1862
Painted by Ingres at the end of his long career, this fantasy of observing a room full of naked women drew together elements and ideas from decades of his previous paintings.
"The bitter draught of slavery" by Ernest Normand
A frightened slavegirl crouches naked as she is offered to a man casually reclining on a divan in Normand's painting of 1885. Another despairing slave cries against a column in the background: both girls are experiencing the bitter taste of slavery.
A Turkish Lady in the Yashmak or Veil
From "Visits To Monasteries in the Levant"
by Robert Curzon, 1849: "The veils of Egypt, of which the outer black silk covering is called a khabara, and the part over the face a boorkoo, are entirely different from those worn in Constantinople, Persia, or Armenia; these are all various in form and colour, complicated and wonderful garments, which it would take too long to describe, but they, as well as the Egyptian one, answer their intended purpose excellently, for they effectually prevent the display of any grace or peculiarity of form [more...