Much of nineteenth century art and literature from Neo-classic and Romanticism to twentieth century Modernism demonstrated a Eurocentric fascination for the cultural ‘Other’. Edward Said (1978) a Palestinian-American literary theorist redefined ‘Orientalism’ (Ma, 2012) and gives details of a mechanism for the European colonial process. The Orient, as Said describes is the place of Europe’s oldest and richest colonies, and is the source of its languages and civilizations, but it is ironic to think that it has become the most reoccurring image of the ‘Other’ (Said, 1993.pp28-1). ‘Orientalism’ as a doctrine has helped define Western Europe’s own identity as contrary to the idea of the Orient. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Colonialist authoritative position on Orientalism was an attempt to deny the oppressive nature of European Colonialism, so ‘Orientalism’ during the post-Enlightenment period was accepted by European writers, poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, administrators and artists. This began the theoretic display of the Orient in epics, art, novels, social descriptions and political account that assumed people’s minds, culture and religion (Said, 1978). Artists Delacroix (1798-1863), Vernet (1789-1863), and Gerome (1824-1904) along with statements from catalogues in the Salon and Royal Academy of Art give examples of the European epic on colonial ‘Orientalism’.
In a catalogue for the “The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse” (1839), in the Royal Academy, it is stated in the introduction by the author, Hugh Casson, that the exhibition was a direct attempt to disconnect the perceived connection between culture and politics, and goes on to say that the exhibition was evoked by the spirit of the artist ‘the intrepid traveler, fighting against the odds to record the exotic, “the dangers and the delights” of the Near East and North Africa’,but the Orientalists do nothing more than define ‘otherness’ to Europe, rather than give accurate account of the actual characteristics of the indigenous peoples, or historical content. (Baddeley, 1982, pp 1,2). Said (1978), speaks about the exhibition introduction in the catalogue of 1839, as anticipated criticism, and says that it “adopts an historical, European viewpoint in its approach to the study of artists in contact with foreign cultures” (Baddeley,1994.pp2).
http://www.abcgallery.com/D/delacroix/delacroix24.html Retrieved 16th of May 2014.
Artistic, religious and scholarly practice supported ‘British, French and German investments in industries, railways, the Suez Canal and agriculture’, so as example: artists were used to assist in reflecting a perceived epistemology and ontology. Artists presented subjects that show Oriental countries and peoples as barbaric, feudal, autocratic, morally depraved and subject to irrational mysticism (Baddeley,1994.pp 4). Delacroix pictures the ‘Fanatics of Tangiers’ (1837-1838) (Figure.1), and in the 1838 brochure for the Salon, Delacroix offered an explanation for the painting: “These fanatics are called Issaouis, after their founder Ben Issa.
At certain times of year, they meet outside towns; then, their enthusiasm excited by prayers and wild cries, they enter into a veritable state of intoxication, and, spreading through the streets, perform a thousand contortions, and even dangerous acts” (Delacroix, 1838). Delacroix assumes epistemology and even suggests a chaotic nature of an autocratic government.
Vernet, (1789-1863) reflects the French military and religious dominance in the First Mass
in Kabylia (1845) (Figure.2) as an orderly assembly, which highlights Western European order and control.
http://www.expoorientalisme.be/artworks/en/i_revitalising_religion-1854_vernet_messe_en_kabylie-1.html Retrieved 14th of May 2014.
Pictured is the Turkish army kneeling before a Catholic alter, in the foreground the presumed Arab sultan and officials remove their shoes respectfully and accept servitude, while the wounded French military humbly suggest that the Arab nation and Islamic religion will stand corrected and accept colonization.
Though the ‘First Mass in Kabylia’ was painted in 1854, it follows as justification to the ‘Battle of Somah’
(Figure.3) painted in 1839. One can visualize in the ‘Fanatics of Tangiers’ (1837-1838) the perceived necessity for the emancipation of the Roman Church, illustrated in the ‘First Mass in Kabylia’ (1854), which justifies the French military domination in the ‘Battle of Somah’(1839).
The ‘Battle of Somah’ (Figure.3) shows the Battle fought in Algeria 1836. It depicts the righteous positioning of Marshall Clauzel Gegen Constantine leading the French troops (Humilityjoy, 2012). He is featured calm and subdued, non-threatening while his troops defend the front line from savage attack. It appears that the Arab army is in attack, surrounding the French who are at a disadvantage, the enemy is on horseback, and the aggressor is shown to be the Arab on the right pointing the pistol at the French Marshall who is seemingly only mildly armed with a sword. It therefore can be interpreted that the Islamic nations are wild and unruly aggressors.
http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_147752/Horace-Vernet/The-Battle-of-Somah,-1839 Retrieved 14th of May 2014.
Though Vernet was considered to be an academic historical painter, it is read in the Royal academy galley guide, ‘paintings could be found to be a meticulous record of racial types and architectural detail’ (Baddeley, 1994. pp. 2, 1), but if one is to analyse the ontological and epistemological distinctions, Vernet and other Romantic artists have made of the Orient, one can see that these analogies are fanciful and idealized.
Jean-Leon Gerome’s , (1824-1904) visited Constantinople in 1853, he then went on tour following the route of Delacroix through Greece, Turkey, Judea, Syria, and Egypt. He produced Romantic works of aesthetic nationalism in the traditional order of antiquity in artistic value, nobility and drama (Russell, 1961). His compositions were like epic films in scene, design, and costume. He cast figures in exotic harems, gladiator battles and desert heroes. Gerome’s work was also politically attractive to the ruling elite, because it did not expose social inequalities as did ‘Realists’ Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Jean Francois Millet (1814-1875) and so therefor won awards such as the Legion of Honor, a professorship at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and many commissions. To the people of France Gerome’s work in exotic Eastern subject matter offered a relief of escape from the everyday struggle in poverty (Cole, 2013), but Gerome’s paintings were anything but meticulous records of racial types or accurate architectural evidence.
Gerome’s ‘Snake Charmer’ (Figure.4), of 1870 gives a naive approach to Islamic decoration in architecture, but also gives an idealized image of racial type and assumes knowledge of political position. There is a presumed mercenary tribal order that suggests a nomadic life style which for an Ottoman sultan in Constantinople, ended in the conquest of 1453. Gerome’s painting of the blue mosaic wall, suggests the Royal halls of the Yeni Saray (new palace (Coco, 1997), and there is obvious hierarchy in the sitting positions of what would be interpreted as the sultan, where the height of the figure in the green turban, gives a throne like quality, and the placing of the shield and sword on the wall, reflects a show of arms, and a non-democratic dictatorship.
Figure.4 Jean-Léon Gérôme ,French, 1824-1904. The Snake Charmer c. 1870. Oil on canvas 83.8 x 122.1 cm Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1942. 1955.51
http://www.clarkart.edu/museum/collections/nineteenth_eur/content.cfm?marker=5&start=5 Retrieved 16th of May 2014.
Entertainment for early Ottoman sultans, as Gerome’s painting suggests, at times enjoyed a zoo of wild animals, but animals were enjoyed out doors in the open air, and the indoor retreat was for enjoyment with the ladies only, and boys were kept in the confinements of the ladies harem and were not permitted to join the ranks of the men until they were of age. The sultan distances himself from his subjects to maintain the hierarchy. He did not lounge on the floors of the courts with lesser men, and the fact that there is no furnishings is also a fallacy, because according to Coco (1997) the Royal halls were decorated with Chinese porcelain vases, Venetian mirrors a mixture of French and oriental furniture reminiscent of the Rococo (Coco, 1997), so it maybe said that Gerome’s so called racial and historical record taking was designed to please aesthetic taste rather than give historic cultural value (Deknatel, 2011). Gerome’s ‘Snake Charmer’ has a nomadic, barbaric, natural appeal that serves to justify what European’s believed to be a natural order of colonial conquest. That Western European culture was set above the East, because the East was perceived to be nomadic, barbaric and closer to nature.
Paintings by Gerome, Vernet and Delacroix have been used as examples to explain Orientalism, as a political mechanism imposed on the Orient to justify ‘European imperial and colonial domination over the Arab Islamic world’ and ‘scholarship was historically fabricated and manipulated to portray the East as inferior’ (Said 1978), so Western writers, poets, artists, novelists, philosophers, and political theorists worked a theoretic epic display of the Orient. Delacroix points out when describing poetry as a metaphor to painting, as a ‘pure’ convention, and says, “an ordered language which immediately sets the reader above the earthly plane of everyday life” (Delacroix, 1860 in Eitner, 1970), so idealistically the convention can be used to set the reader apart from the ‘Other’ as it does from the everyday life, the ‘Other’ being the subject, which is the exotic Orient, its culture, religion and its people. ‘Orientalism’ is this convention used to justify European imperial colonialism which extends from nineteenth century art and literature from Neo-classic Romanticism to twentieth century Modernism and beyond.
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Figure 1. The Fanatics of Tangier. 1837-1838. Delacroix Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix. Oil on canvas. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, USA http://www.abcgallery.com/D/delacroix/delacroix24.html Retrieved 16th of May 2014.
Figure 2. The First Mass in Kabylia. 1854, Vernet, Emile Jean Horace (1789-1863) 194x123cm oil on canvas. Musée Cantonal des Beaux- Arts de Causanne. Photograph J.C. Ducret.http://www.expoorientalisme.be/artworks/en/i_revitalising_religion-1854_vernet_messe_en_kabylie-1.html Retrieved 14th of May 2014.
Figure.3 The Battle of Somah, 1839 (oil on canvas), Vernet, Emile Jean Horace (1789-1863) / Musee Rolin, Autun, France / The Bridgeman Art Library http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_147752/Horace-Vernet/The-Battle-of-Somah,-1839 Retrieved 14th of May 2014.
Figure.4 The Snake Charmer c. 1870 Jean-Léon Gérôme ,French, 1824-1904.. Oil on canvas 83.8 x 122.1 cm Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1942. 1955.51
http://www.clarkart.edu/museum/collections/nineteenth_eur/content.cfm?marker=5&start=5 Retrieved 16th of May 2014.
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