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Thursday, 30 December 2010

Aesthetics and Poetics of History: Franco Moretti, in Graphs, Maps, Trees

By Alexandra A Jopp

In a series of three short essays, Franco Moretti, in Graphs, Maps, Trees explores methods of analyzing literature through a framework grounded in cartographic theory. As an example, during this process, Moretti uses diagrams to demonstrate the rise of the novel in the 18th and 19th centuries in countries such as England, Spain, Italy, Japan and Nigeria. The charm of numbers along with Moretti’s erudition and Italian temperament – his style and voice are very excited, it seems to me – offers a controversial new paradigm for how critics may approach literature.

Moretti’s book focuses on defining the cultural stratification of literature. He believes that human culture is closely connected with the geography of a country, and that the history of each culture is, in large part, a function of its topography. Therefore, geographical conditions generate those ideas that are the bases of any artistic products. His argument appears to be a literary cousin to the one offered by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel that human history has largely been shaped by geography and environment.

Moretti is trying to make literary studies a part of historical research. He approaches these studies from different angles and proposes reforms that could affect scholarship, teaching and the job market in the field. “Theories are nets,” he claims, “and we should evaluate them, not as ends in themselves, but for how they concretely change the way we work: for how they allow us to enlarge the literary field, and re-design it in a better way replacing the old, useless distinctions with new temporal, spatial, and morphological distinctions.” His idea of counting books rather than interpreting them offers a diachronical approach that borrows from scientific models that are far from literature, including charts from quantitative history, maps from geography and some treelike diagrams from evolutionary biology. He does not focus on any specific works. Instead he “counts, maps, charts” and integrates them into graphs in which “the reality of the text undergoes a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction.” He purposefully guards his argument regarding “distant reading,” claiming that “distance is not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge.”

Moretti, I believe, is a Marxist, which means that he starts off buying a load of horseshit, having never lived in a country in which the ruling elite took Marxism seriously and tried to put it into practice. His writing is often impenetrable, which makes it attractive to some graduate students and others who want to appear to be more clever than those who prefer to read literature than listen to someone like Moretti explain it in pretentious ways. His theory is probably incomprehensible to anyone who has not spent years studying literature and critical approaches to it.

Moretti’s method suggests getting to know literature without reading it, and this is where I disagree. I am interested in reading and languages, in insight and meaning, not in counting books. Moretti would surely respond that his approach is an important new way of studying literature, that “now, opening new conceptual possibilities seemed more important than justifying them in every detail.” If nothing else, Moretti is certainly ambitious, seeking to cover subjects as varied as world literature, the village stories of 19th century Europe, the syllable structure of detective stories and more in a geographical context, all in a 92-page book. His goal is nothing less than to describe the chaotically self-organizing evolutionary stream of creative process.

Having had the opportunity to study geography and English in both the United States and Europe I see the differences in trends, with deconstruction being popular on one side and interpretation of texts (or micro-reading) dominant on the other. Moretti looks at English studies as if they were at an end. He seems to argue that literary critics should stop interpreting canonical texts, that we should give up the ideas that make us value some texts over others. While he assures readers that “texts are certainly the real objects of literature,” he also writes that that “they are not the right objects of knowledge for literary history.” The forces that shape literary history are, in his view, not texts but genres.

I have serious doubts about whether Moretti’s attempted interface between world systems analysis and cultural science is a success. Notwithstanding the postmodernist skepticism that he and certain others embrace, the literary environment remains “old-fashioned” in its regard for texts. Innovation is wonderful, but new isn’t necessarily better.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Art in the Digital Age

By Alexandra A Jopp

Science and technology has transformed the humanities through the development of digital media [1].  In art history, in particular, it has created enormous opportunities related to visual culture. This essay will look at digital history and new media and the effects that they are having on the world of art.

The Internet has enabled the mass distribution of text and images around the world. While it has created some challenges related to ownership and copyright issues, it has helped to fulfill many of the goals of the digital humanities. First, the new technology enables more collaboration and cooperation among scholars [2]. Second, it offers more comprehensive coverage of the historical material by, for example, providing links to photographs and documentation. Historical sites, museums, libraries and archives often employ digitization to promote their collections. These holdings, however, must have a purpose, and that purpose depends upon what a given institution is trying to accomplish in preserving the materials and making them accessible. For example, the Ohio Memory Project compiles state artifacts in an online scrapbook that “celebrates state and local history.” This mission is related to the “more comprehensive coverage” goal in that it brings together historical materials from various institutions around the state – archives, museums, libraries and historical societies – to create a large collection of primary source material that otherwise would not all be available in one place. Lastly, it broadens the audience and involves viewers more in the product. In other words, machines become the audience [3].

The digital revolution has brought about immense opportunities to access and interpret information. This, of course, does not mean that all claims about events are equally valid. With so much information and so many interpretations available, one must measure each assertion against the evidence rather than indulge in the undemanding and unrewarding sophistry of grouping all “narratives” together and decreeing that all are products of their respective cultures, each one no better or worse than the next. Online researchers and scholars should focus not only on the format in which to present text and images to the world, but also on how to present the information in the most balanced, unbiased way.

In the art world, more and more museums, galleries, and archives are making their collections available online in various forms. For example, the Louvre in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, have full listings of their repositories and the immense majority of their images available on the web at no charge. In contrast, the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO), which combines various art collections online to promote collaboration between scholars and museums, charges for access to its content. AMICO, though, provides not only a vast repository of visual data and excellent subject matter but also a database of images that allows viewers to see the art and its relation to the culture in an expansive way, making it well worth the price of “admission” for many researchers.

Corpus Vitrearum, which is dedicated to the study of medieval stained glass preserved in German churches and museums, offers an excellent example of what can be done with collections online. The Eton Myers Collection in the U.K., meanwhile, provides unlimited access to ancient Egyptian art through the creation of 3-D models, while an exhibit at the University of Bristol has digitized a collection of material from the Pompeii Court of the Crystal Palace and offers a virtual recreation of the Court that includes a life-size model of an ancient Roman house with paintings and everyday objects that was preserved after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

While the information provided by the museums online is limited, these digitized projects maintain the highest scholarly standards, and some researchers have suggested that their effects are only starting to be felt. “Such a work,” in the words of William Vaughn, a professor of art history at Birkbeck College at the University of London, “will surely in time render the printed catalogue raisonné obsolete - the more so since the online catalogue can be instantly updated” [4].

With the rise of the digital age, museums and other cultural establishments have started to reinterpret their mission, creating websites that help them to expand their reach and attract new users who might never set foot in the buildings that house the materials. One can now, after all, view the greatest cultural treasures of the world without leaving home, as a computer with an Internet connection takes the place of traveling to museums and archives hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The advantages of a digital museum or online exhibition are clearly seen. Visitors can enjoy cultural relics without any time restrictions while the security of historical artifacts and images is guaranteed. Moreover, by means of multimedia interactivity, users can even "touch" objects and "manipulate" them in ways that can enrich their visit.

Virtual museums and online exhibitions, being an organic part of a network, continue to open new possibilities regarding the preservation of cultural history and its interpretation. The typical online museum includes sections describing it and its history and presenting the permanent collections as well as any featured exhibits. Sections devoted to permanent collections generally do not require many changes in the text that is used in the physical display. In many cases, though, the exhibitions take on a new life online, becoming multimedia presentations through which users can better familiarize themselves with the items being studied.

New forms of presenting exhibitions online have become popular and now occupy their own niches in the art history profession. A good example of a thematic virtual exhibition is “From Delacroix to Kandinsky: Orientalism in Europe,” which is on the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Brussels, Belgium) website. This exhibition presents a survey of European Orientalist art from 1798 to 1914. A broad variety of themes invites viewers on a journey through exotic worlds where fantasy and reality meet.

Another example comes from the National Museum of Uruguay (MUVA), which is an architecturally stunning museum that has a unique collection of contemporary art – all of which, including the museum itself, can only be found on the Internet. On the museum website, we are given a virtual tour of the building that Uruguayans hope will one day be built. In the meantime, they display the work of their leading artists online. It is the most fully realized vision of a graphic and spatialized virtual museum. The site is accessible in Spanish and in English.

Countless virtual museums, “real” museums, galleries and archives now feature collections in cyberspace. The aims are not only to preserve and promote collections but also to provide easy access to such disparate materials as photographs, engravings, orthographic drawings, animations and so on, by means of a chic interface design. The launching of web-based museums started in the early 1990s. Some of the first important virtual museums were the Web Museum Project, created by the École Polytechnique in Paris, and the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture. The latter site was one of the first in the world to use an interactive panoramic format (which it did to show a display of 16 sculptures), and it featured images of 269 paintings in JPEG format [5].

As media and communication technologies have progressed, scholars, students and the general public have shown an interest in multimedia projects. For this reason, among others, it seems certain that the effects of digital media on the humanities will only grow in coming years. This will demand innovation and adaptation as we determine the best approach to take with virtual museums and archives. Art will be different, and so will its history.

3. Dan Cohen, “When Machines Are the Audience,” online posting, March 2, 2006, Dan Cohen, blog, http// 

4. William Vaughan: History of Art in the digital Age: Problems and Possibilities,
in: zeitenblicke 2 (2003), Nr. 1 [08.05.2003],

5.  Tomur Atagok and Oguzhan Ozcan. Virtual museums in Turkey in: Museum International, Volume 53, Issue 1, (January-March 2001), 42–45.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Possibilities of Digital Media

By Alexandra A. Jopp

I created this blog in 2009 to showcase the works of important - but not necessarily very well known - 19th and 20th-century American artists. In 2010, I expanded the blog to include European masters. As part of this new direction, and for the purposes of a course I am taking on new media and digital history at George Mason University, I have written a series of posts that will offer a review of Orientalist art as it developed in Europe from 1798 to 1914. (For the purposes of this blog, I will use “Orientalism” as an art-historical term that relates to a small group of 19th-century French artists who took the Maghreb and the Middle East as their subject matter.) I will focus on the following collection of images: odalisques depicted in all their sensuality; bathers; and other harem scenes that feature the myriad colors and fabrics that are emblematic of Orientalism. My aim is to create an online resource for images and printed materials on this topic and to encourage collaboration between people who love art.
According to William G. Thomas III, professor of history at the University of Nebraska, “expanding the audience for historical scholarship continues to be a goal for digital historians.” The digital age has led to an explosion of information availability and a vast expansion in the number of ways to store and transmit that information. Multimedia technology offers new methods of teaching history and new ways for students to interact with historical materials and other information and data in the humanities.
In a field such as art history, digital media permits the instantaneous viewing of works from around the world and offers sophisticated analytical tools. The phrase “digital revolution,” then, really is not an exaggeration. A trip to the museum or the archives can, in many cases, be replaced with a few clicks of a mouse, vastly expanding the potential audience and increasing the number of potential contributors to the academic process.
I can especially appreciate the audience-broadening effects of digital media. In the early days of this blog, it would get no more than about 20 hits a day. However, in the past two months, as I have posted more often, daily hits have at times surpassed 300, with the monthly total exceeding 4,000. Hits most frequently came from the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada, Russia (surprise) and France.

While nothing can fully replace the experience of viewing a work of art in person, the ability to see an image of it – possibly even an image that can be zoomed or rotated – at any time from one’s own home enables – or, at least, eases – new scholarship in the field. Online sources, after all, are always available and have none of the limits on capacity and “manipulatability” that are unavoidable with books.
As mentioned above, the next few posts focus on Romantic Orientalism. They include an introduction to Orientalism, a look at French artists with whom the movement is usually associated, and several images that exemplify the movement. Each image is hyperlinked to either the website of its location (i.e., the Louvre) or the auction house that most recently sold it (i.e., Sotheby’s). In addition, links are provided to related exhibitions and online features. Finally, I have posted details and links for many of the most important texts that have been published on the topic of exotica in the Orient.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Romantic Orientalism: The Harem

By Alexandra A Jopp

In the 19th century, more and more artists traveled to the Middle East and North Africa. English painters went to India and Egypt, while French painters explored North Africa, especially Algeria and Morocco. According to Eric Underwood, “the conquest of Algeria during the reign of Louis-Philippe also aroused the interest of the French public and helped to increase the popularity of oriental characters.” (226). The East had a special appeal to artists of the Romantic era, particularly Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Theodore Chasseriau and Eugene Fromentin. Orientalism and exotica begins with Delacroix (1798-1863). His first Orientalist painting, The Women of Algiers (1834), is not only an enchanting masterpiece but also one of his most important works.

Eugene Delacroix.
The Women of Algiers, 1834.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Perceptions of Islamic culture in the West result not only from the Arabic language, mosques and the Koran, and stories from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, but also from an institution that played an important role in the formation of both the internal and external policies of the Islamic world: the harem. Delacroix, with Algerian Women in their Apartment, offered one of the only European images of this unique world that was produced by an eyewitness. The painting’s bright colors and sensuality gave its European viewers their first look into the mysterious world of the Middle East. In this work, the family and the harem represent a center of erotic pleasure, and the harem represents the absolute authority of a man over a woman. It was a symbol of power, luxury, wealth and fashion to have many women – commonly called slaves or odalisques – of different nationalities in a harem. Delacroix’ paintings cemented in European minds the image of the Middle East as a place of sensual delights. Other painters would visit these themes, including Jean Leon Gerome in Pool in a Harem and The Grand Bath at Bursa, both of which represent the imagined erotic utopia of the East.

Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904)
The Harem Pool. 1876.
The Hermitage - St. Petersburg.

Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
The Great Bath at Bursa, 1885.
Private Collection
As seen with Algerian Women in Their Apartment, novel sexual practices are often among the most captivating features of a foreign culture and the harem was certainly novel to 19th century European Christians. Harem paintings – and Delacroix was certainly not the only artist to work with this theme – were stylistically traditional, with a plane treatment of the images, prevailing horizontal lines, precise, smooth, dark contours of figures, well-planned spacing and carefully chosen colors. Oriental harem paintings were moderately erotic but not too sexually explicit. They combined two traditions – Oriental (plane treatment of images; “carnal” colors; motley Eastern ornaments of clothes and draperies) and Western European (absence of “shocking” images; static character of subjects). Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904) traveled extensively throughout Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Palestine and used those experiences to produce realistic pictures of the East. Fréderic Masson records an entertaining account by Gérôme (probably in a letter) of his experience:

During a stay in Bursa, I was taken by the architecture of the baths, and they certainly offered a chance to study nudes. It wasn’t just a question of going to see what was going on inside, and of replacing [some men by some women], I had to have a sketch of this interior; and since the temperature inside was rather high, I didn’t hesitate to sketch in the simple apparel of a beauty just aroused from her sleep—that is, in the buff. Sitting on my tripod, my paint box on my knees, my palette in my hand, I was a little grotesque, but you have to know how to adapt yourself as necessary. I had the idea of painting my portrait in this costume, but I dropped it, fearing that my image (dal vero) might get me too much attraction and launch me in a career as a Don Juan. (30)

With precise depictions of exotic people, clothes, architecture and settings, Gerome’s Oriental works have documentary value. Critics, in fact, have described him as an artist-ethnographer. Among his best-known works is Pool in a Harem (circa 1876), which presents two white women and a black servant amidst carefully detailed Oriental tiles, furniture and architecture. The precision of Gerome’s Eastern works and his Classical approach has led to his works often being considered “academic realism.” 
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
The Snake Charmer, 1870.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
In contrast to Gerome, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted harem and other Oriental scenes without ever having visited the Orient. His Odalisque with a Slave (1839) and Grand Odalisque (1814) present slaves, or “odalisques,” in sensual and receptive poses. They are “not acting,” but silently offering themselves. According to Helen Weston,in A Look Back to Ingres, Grand Odalisque, gives the idea “that these female nudes were produced solely for the delectation of men”(115). Odalisque with a Slave, painted for his friend Marcotte, on one of Inres’s favorite subjects is an admirable example of a sensual composition: “the wonderful line which undulates from the elbow of the odalisque, along the arm, and waist to the extremities; the crescent that it makes with the slave’s knees, the contrast given to these curves by the horizontal and vertical lines of the balustrade all contribute to the unforgettable balance, harmony, and grace as a whole” (Underwood 185).

Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique. 
Odalisque and Slave, 1839.
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 
The Grand Odalisque, 1814.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Grand Odalisque was ordered by the Queen of Naples, Napoleon’s sister. It was shown in a salon in 1819 and amazed the public with “a rattling mix” of the exotic and the erotic. The twisting, curving pose of the painting’s female is the serpentine line, the line of aloof sensuality, anacreontism and gracefulness (115).
Some critics, however, reproached Ingres for the work, saying that, in order to extend the line of the back of the woman, he added an extra neck bone. In addition, some say he made the subject’s right hand so unnaturally extended that it appears that she is missing bones. The woman is shown with her back to the viewer, glancing over her right shoulder with a look of apparent indifference. Some of the details that surround her – the hookah and smoking incense – indicate a harem setting. The parting of the subject’s hair and the Italian headdress that she wears, though, imply that the woman is European, not Oriental. In this way, the painting can be seen as a symbol of the influence of Oriental exoticism on the people of Europe. Clothes, fabrics, ornaments and accessories always accompany the female portraits of Ingres. His skills are shown in his ability to combine the female form with fabrics, furs and feathers. If one looks closer at Grand Odalisque, one notices how, on the naked hip of the woman, a fan of pheasant’s feathers flows downward covering the back of her thigh. The viewer can almost feels its airy softness, and it adds to the picture a bit of eroticism, in addition to emphasizing the languor of the pose in what seems to be a moment of blissful laziness. Another major Orient-inspired work by Ingres also hinted at the supposed exotic sexuality of the Orient. Turkish Bath (1862) depicts many unclothed women in relaxed poses, with the Arabic dance of the naked beauty in the background. The picture immerses the viewer in an atmosphere of voluptuousness and idleness.

Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique.
The Turkish Bath, 1862.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique.
Bather of Valpincon, 1808.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Cleanliness was an important part of Arabic society. The body was to be washed before each of the five daily prayers, for example, and it was considered essential to take a bath after sexual relations. Even with house baths, many Turks preferred to go to a public bath twice a week. For women, this was an especially significant event, the public bath being the place where they heard the latest gossip and showed each other new clothes. Baths were also the center of entertainment and erotica. When women returned home, they shone with cleanliness and were ready to become objects of love for their husbands. Turkish baths were also used for dating purposes as secret love nests. Like the harem, the public bath titillated Europeans and was a natural subject for Orientalist artists in search of the exotic. Turkish Bath, finished Ingres’ career as a painter, which seems not inappropriate given that some critics say the painting was a “sum” of all of his well-known works. First painted in 1859 as a rectangle, the work was revised to a circular form in 1863, at which time Ingres, who was then almost 80, added the small, out-of -scale figure on the pool and revised the appearance of the central foreground figure who is seen from behind. With some changes in the pose of this woman’s legs and the addition of a guitar, “she is used as a repoussoir figure, but she still retains the essence of her original simplicity and chaste naïveté” (Friedlander 89). The painting gives the viewer a sense of luxury. One can almost hear the sounds of the mandolin and tambourine, smell the Turkish coffee and feel the women’s smooth skin. In addition, it conveys the eroticism that Europeans, rightly or wrongly, so closely associated with the East. Notwithstanding the artistic merits of his works, Ingres’ painting of such scenes without firsthand knowledge of the Orient is a testament to both the widespread fascination with the region and the willingness of Europeans to assume for themselves the power to define it.

Jean Leon Gerome. 
Grecian Interior, Le Gynecee, 1848.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Jean Leon Gerome.
Private collection
Jean Leon Gerome. 
A Bath, Woman Bathing Her Feet (Harem Pool) 1889.
Private collection
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904)
After the Bath, 1870.
Private Collection.
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
Moorish bath, Turkish woman bathing, 1870.
Private Collection.
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
Moorish Bath, 1870.
Private Collection.

Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904)
The Steam Bath. (Le Bain de Vapeur.) 1889.
Private Collection.
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
The Pipe Lighter. (Allumeuse de Narghilé), 1898.
Private Collection.
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
Private Collection.
Jean Léone Gérôme (1824-1904) 
The Terrace of the Seraglio, 1898.
Private Collection.

          The Ottoman Empire Map (1359-1856)

Friedlaender, W. (1974). David to Delacroix. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.
Masson, F. (1902). 'J.L. Gérôme. Notes et fragments des souvenirs inédits du maître', Les Arts.
Uderwood, E. G. (1931). A Short History of French Painting. London, Oxford University Press.
Weston, H. (1996). "A Look Back on Ingres." Oxford Art Journal 19(2): 114-116.

Romantic Orientalism Books

Hundreds of Romantic Orientalist texts are published each year in the topic of exotica of the Orient. Here, I hope to detail as many as possible, and in these pages I provide information on including the publisher’s description, selections from the book, and any available book reviews.

Edward W. Said
Publisher: Vintage Books, 1979.

"The theme is the way in which intellectual traditions are created and trans-mitted... Orientalism is the example Mr. Said uses, and by it he means something precise. The scholar who studies the Orient (and specifically the Muslim Orient), the imaginative writer who takes it as his subject, and the institutions which have been concerned with teaching it, settling it, ruling it, all have a certain representation or idea of the Orient defined as being other than the Occident, mysterious, unchanging and ultimately inferior."

Book Review by Janet Malcom, The New Yorker  ---

"Orientalism...remains one of the sturdiest intellectual monuments of our time.... Said's exegeses of the writers who, professing objectivity and sympathy, could not suppress their condescension and dislike or hide their political agendas compel us to examine our own carelessly stereotypical thinking about Arabs and Islam and, by extension, to ask whether any representation of another culture is necessarily compromised."

Book Review by Patrick Seale, The Observer  ---

"A stimulating, elegant yet pugnacious essay which is going to puncture a lot of complacencies. Professor Said is a Palestinian Arab who...uses this privileged vantage point to observe the West observing the Arabs, and he does not like what he finds."

Book Review by Nissim Rejwans, 
Jerusalem Post  --
"An important book...It is bound to usher in a new epoch in the world's attitude to Oriental studies and Oriental scholarship. Never has there been as sustained and as persuasive a case against Orientalism as Said's."

Islam and Romantic Orientalism: Literary Encounters With the Orient
By Mohammed Sharafuddin
Publisher: London: I. B. Tauris (September 15, 1996)
Did European writers and scholars create an image of the Islamic world as a place of tyranny, unreason and immorality destined to be subjected to and exploited by the civilized West? This book takes a fresh look at some of the main literary texts of the Romantic movement explored in Edward Said's classic work. Sharafuddin acknowledges wide areas of truth in Said's thesis, however, he argues that in the work of Southey, Byron, Moore and Landor, who began their careers under the sign of the French Revolution and declared their independence both from political tryanny and from national self-safisfaction, the world of Islam appears not just as an antithesis to the world of European civilization but as an alternative cultural reality with its own values.

The Orient in Western Art.
By Gérard-Georges Lemaire.
Publisher: Könemann, 2001. 
Through its fascinating texts and magnificent color photographs, this volume conveys the entire history of Orientalism in European painting. Individual chapters devoted to important artists including Eugene Delacroix, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky and extensive articles on special themes such as the image of the harem and the Oriental fantasies of the Impressionists complete the picture.

Orientalism: history, theory, and the arts.
By John M. MacKenzie
Publisher: Manchester Univ Press (July 1995)
The Orientalism debate, inspired by the work of Edward Said, has been a major source of cross-disciplinary controversy. This work offers a re-evaluation of this vast literature of Orientalism by a historian of imperalism, giving it a historical perspective. The discussion tests the notion that the Western arts received genuine inspiration from the East by examining the visual arts, architecture, design, music and theatre. The book argues that Western approaches to the Orient have been much more ambiguous and genuinely interactive than Said allowed.

Istanbul: Memories and the City
By Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Vintage 2006.
"Part memoir, part cultural history, the vision of his home city that Pamuk presents in this book is occluded by the mists of reminiscence. He tries to make sense of the contested representations of European travellers and Turkish writers, the changing fortunes of Istanbul, and his own place within it." - Alev Adil, The Independent

Romantic Orientalism WebSite

This site has listed 1222 Orientalist artists working in the XIX and upto the beginning of the XX Century:

The Orientalists. 
Written by June Taboroff. Photographs courtesy of National Gallery of Art:

Linda Nochlin and The Imaginary Orient by Ibn Warraq (June 2010):

Colonial and Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

Edward Said’s
Orientalism revisited, by Keith Windschuttle (in this article that orginally appeared in The New Criterion, Windschuttle presents a critique of Said's thesis)  

Orientalism in the arts

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Romantic Orientalism: Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) Illustrated Egyptian travel narratives

By Alexandra A Jopp

Eugene Delacroix, as one of the most significant French painters of the Romantic era and the first male painter in the 19th century to paint a harem from first-hand experience, has a special place in the history of Orientalism in art. During an 1832 trip across North Africa, Delacroix met a local sultan who honored the European visitor by giving him a rare look inside the Muslim world, a look that included the opportunity to see that most exotic feature of Islamic culture, the harem. When Delacroix returned to France, he recreated the scene he had witnessed with models and produced Algerian Women in Their Apartment.

Eugene Delacroix.
Algerian Women in Their Apartment, 1834.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Compared to most harem scenes, the painting, in Tom Prideaux’ words, is “a triumph of sensual delicacy” (107). Cezanne remarked that the color of the red slippers belonging to the three women in the harem in Delacroix’s painting “goes into one’s eyes like a glass of wine down one’s throat” (Blake 3). Similar, Renoir said that “he could smell incense in it – which is all the more disturbing when combined with the lassitude of the women as they lounge in their confined chamber” (Vaughn 252). The painting gives a vision of Orientalism at a time when France had just conquered Algeria and claimed it as a territory. Though he painted the scene from a recreation, Delacroix was able to use his experience in Algeria to present Muslim women in their most intimate setting, a place Europeans were not normally allowed to enter. The painter wanted to give an idea of Oriental life by representing women of the harem in their exotic dress, sitting in a beautiful interior. The work is very descriptive with attention to many nuances and possesses a sensual beauty and melancholy. Delacroix uses light and color to great effect, drawing the viewer into the picture “by its powerful harmony of color values, its completely baroque and asymmetrical yet balanced rhythm of bodies and space” (Friedlaender 121). Each of the women has her own colors: black, red and blue for the servant; pink, white and green for the woman holding the stem of narghile; blue, red and yellow for the woman next to her; and red, white, brown and gold for the woman on the left. The combination of red and green has a particularly strong effect, conveying passion and sensuality. Eugene Fromentin gave a colorful description of Delacroix’ master work: Imagine a collection of all kinds of precious materials, yellow damask, with black satin stripes and with gold arabesques on a black ground, and silver flowers on the lemon background; a whole array of scarlet silk with two strips of olive; orange beside violet, pinks crossed with blues, delicate blues with cold greens, half-emerald cushions, crimson, purple and garnet-red, all this put together with the imaginativeness that comes naturally to Orientals, the only true colorists in the world. (Jullian 82)

Fromentin’s analysis, it is worth noting, in addition to describing the painting, also expresses some of the European attitudes that came to define Orientalism: a fascination with the exotic practices of a foreign people who are easily stereotyped (in this case, as “the only true colorists in the world” who have an “imaginativeness that comes naturally”). The patterns of the rugs, cushions and tiles are of the foreground contrast to those on the wall and the curtain in the background, which is left in shadow. The four women are almost on the same line, and Delacroix paints the foreground in much more detail than the background. When viewing the picture, one’s gaze passes smoothly from one figure to another, from the standing black servant to the woman with a narghile, to the red slippers, carpets and pillows and to the two other women. The colors and light seem to run into each other, creating a shimmering luminous effect. The viewer of the painting is left with the sense of having seen something intimate, even forbidden. Intricate Persian rugs, calm women dressed in silk clothes with make-up and jewels, the Black servant, the richness of the interior. All of these items contribute to the splendor of the picture. As Darcy Gimaldo Grigsby wrote: The power of the picture resides in its successful integration of discrepant descriptive and generalizing registers. On the one hand, the tableau flaunts Delacroix’s newfound knowledge in its plethora of sumptuous details that describe how things look: patterns of tiles, pillows, rugs, jewelry, and fabrics. On the other hand, those details are everywhere subordinated to the self-evidently painterly handling of the composition’s overall atmospheric lighting: the dusky late afternoon interplay between golden light and veiling, cushioning shadows. (Grigsby 78)

While a masterful piece of art, Algerian Women in Their Apartment also demonstrates how Orientalism could over-exoticize the Muslim culture. While harem life, in Delacroix’ presentation, is mysterious, perhaps even glamorous, the reality is that life in a harem was rather unextraordinary. Concubines wearing flowery Arabic clothes had a strong influence on the artist, who saw in them much colorful charm and eroticism. Actually, though, they were just ordinary women onto whom Dealcroix’ European sensibilities projected the exoticism that was so much a part of his work. Though Algerian Women in Their Apartment is his signature work, Delacroix produced many other significant works on various subjects and themes derived from a wide range of sources. His early paintings frequently used religious themes and, with The Virgin of the Sacred Heart (1821) and Bark of Dante (1822), it became obvious that a new talent had arrived on the French art scene. So startling was this arrival that an exposition of the two paintings in 1822 left at least one observer with the impression of a “meteorite that has fallen in a stagnant bog.” When Greece was fighting for its independence from Turkey, Delacroix painted Massacre at Scio (1824) and Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1827). The depiction of contemporary events became an important feature of Romanticism in its early heroic period, and paintings such as these powerfully conveyed a spirit of freedom, energy and struggle, even amidst defeat and death. Baudelaire, in fact, suggested that the real content of Delacroix’ art lies in the expression of “passion.” The poet also commented on the artist’s “morality,” seeing in his work, “nothing but devastation, massacre, conflagrations; everything bears witness against the eternal and incorrigible barbarity of man” (Baudelaire 133). Massacre at Scio, especially, has been criticized for its morbid nature, though many people see the work as an opening to new methods in art.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
La Vierge du Sacré-Cœur 1821
Musée National Eugène Delacroix, Paris

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Bark of Dante, 1822.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Massacre at Chios, 1824. 
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi, 1827
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

Delacroix also worked with historical, mythological, biblical and literary themes that he borrowed from poets and writers such as Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare, and Lord Byron. During a trip to England in 1825, Delacroix studied paintings by Constable and became familiar with the watercolors of Richard Bonington. The works of Shakespeare inspired him to paint Hamlet (1839), The Death of Ophelia, (1844) and The Death of Desdemona (1858), while the Byron play Sardanapalus moved him to produce one of his major works, Death of Sardanapalus (1827), perhaps one of the finest works of the 19th century that was inspired by three ideas: the East, history, and death. Here the viewer will find all the Oriental characteristics, “a cruel, bejeweled prince, ravishing victims, a naked black male slave, a thoroughbred foaming at the mouth, and, spread on muslin, Golconda’s treasures mingled with carved weapons” (Jullian 47).

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard, 1839.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Death of Ophelia, 1843
Musée Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Death of Desdemona, 1858.
Location Unknown

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Death of Sardanapalus, 1827.
Musee du Louvre, Paris.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Death of Sardanapalus (detail) 1827

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Sketch for The Death of Sardanapalus c. 1827

Delacroix’ 1832 trip to North Africa, in addition to leading to Algerian Women in Their Apartment, produced hundreds of sketches and dozens of pictures of the country, its inhabitants and its customs. His other best-known works from this time include Moroccan Caid Visiting His Tribe (1837), Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1839-41), The Sultan of Morocco (1845), and The Lion Hunt (1854). In an 1858 article, Theophile Silvestre noted Delacroix’ mastery, no matter what the subject: “[He] has a sun in his whole scale of human passion; grandiose, terrible, or calm, the brush went from saints to warriors, from warriors to lovers, from lovers to tigers, and from tigers to flowers” (Friedlaender 109).

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Moroccan Caid Visiting his Tribe.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1839-41)

For more information on Orientalist painters, see The Orientalists: Painter-Travellers by Lynne Thornton (1994).


Baudelaire, C. (1955). The mirror of art, critical studies. Phaidon Publishers. 

Blake, P. (1984). "Lured by the Exotic East." Time 9 (Sep): 1-4.

Friedlaender, W. (1974). David to Delacroix. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. 

Grigsby, D. G. (2001). Orients and Colonies: Delacroix's Algerian Harem. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Jullian, P. (1977). The Orientalists: European Painters of Eastern Scenes. Oxford, Phaidon Press Limited. 

Vaughan, W. (2003). Romanticism and Art. New York, Thames & Hudson Inc.

Suggested Readings:

Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern DebateNew HavenYale University Press, 1992.
AlloulaMalekThe Colonial Harem. Trans. Myrna Godzich and Wlad Godzich. MinneapolisMNUniversity of Minnesota Press, 1986.
Beaulieu, Jill, and Mary Roberts, eds. Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, PhotographyDurham: Duke University Press, 2002.
Benjamin, Roger.  Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880-1930BerkeleyUniversity of California Press, 2003.
Bohrer, Frederick. Orientalism and Visual Culture: Imagining Mesopotamia in Nineteenth-Century EuropeCambridgeCambridge University Press, 2003.
Clifford, James. "On Orientalism." In The Predicament of Culture: 20th-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, 255-76. CambridgeCambridge University Press, 1988.
DjebarAssiaWomen of Algiers in Their Apartment. Trans. Marjolijn de Jager. Charlottesville and LondonUniversity of Virginia Press, 1992.
Grigsby, Darcy GrimaldoExtremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary FranceNew Haven and LondonYale University Press, 2002.
———. "Orients and Colonies: Delacroix's Algerian Harem." In The Cambridge Companion to Delacroix, 69-87. Cambridge and New YorkCambridge University Press, 2001.
Lewis, Bernard. "Revolt of Islam." New YorkerNov. 19 2001, 50-63.
Melman, Billie. Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718-1918: Sexuality, Religion and WorkLondon: Macmillan, 1992. Reprint, 1995.
Nochlin, Linda. "The Imaginary Orient." In Politics of Vision; Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society, 33-59. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.
Peirce, Leslie Penn. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman EmpireNew YorkOxfordOxford University Press, 1993.
Porterfield, Todd. The Allure of Empire; Art in the Service of French Imperialism, 1798-1836PrincetonPrinceton University Press, 1998.
Prochaska, David. "Art of Colonialism, Colonialism of Art: The Description de l'Egypte (1809-1828)." L'esprit créateur 34 (1994): 69-91.
Rosenthal, Donald.  Orientalism; the near East in French Painting, 1800-1880RochesterN.Y.Memorial Art Gallery of the Unversity of Rochester, 1982.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New  York: Random House, 1978.
Schwartz, Joan, and James Ryan, eds. Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical ImaginationLondon: I.B. Tauris, 2003.
Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A ReaderNew YorkColumbia University Press, 1994.