Painted Oriental

can someone explain traditional Arabian culture? including harems, royalty, traditions, lifestyles etc.?

Jean-Léon Gérôme (May 11, 1824 – January 10, 1904) was a French artist, who often painted oriental art after visting Eygpt in the 1950s. His art features many elements of the Arab culture and religion.
In his paintings, he tends to depict harems or women bathing... they're always in some sort of bathroom or shower getting clean. often black women (i'm assuming they're slaves) are bathing them.

Does this hold any significance to the Arabic culture? What are his artworks trying to tell us?? They're heavily influenced by his trip to Eygpt, so what is the point of depicting such things in his artwork? how does it relate to traditional Arabian culture?

thanks so much! i'd love some clarification or help!!!!

examples:

http://www.oceansbridge.com/paintings/collections/famous-nudes/big/Gerome_Jean_LeonXXAfter_the_Bath.jpg

http://www.picturalissim.com/t/gerome_moorish_bath.jpg

http://i.pbase.com/u12/pillroller23/large/38246998.LegionofHonor010.jpg

Okay, first things first.

This should be right up my alley, since I am half Arab, and my particular flavor of Arab is Egyptian. My father was born there, came to the US and lived here most of his adult life, and now has returned to Egypt. I've both lived there, and visited numerous times. My maiden name is even a Turkish name, not a regular Arab one.

With that said, I couldn't even start to write something intelligent about Arab culture because I would have an answer too long for Y!A to allow before I got anything explained.

Second, I'm terribly confused by the question. The Ottoman Empire (The Turks) still ruled Egypt when he was there, so it's hard to know if he was influenced by Turkish culture, or by Egyptian culture, or by Arab culture, or by all three (I suspect it was the last one). The problem is that while there is a bit of overlap in some areas, those three cultural traditions are pretty distinct. The samples of his paintings just jumble things further. The first one is a traditional Turkish style bath (big room, many women, most likely part of the palace harem, and they're sitting around and relaxing, which was a big pastime). The second one is too small to tell for sure, except for the title, and the tile work--it say's it's a Moorish bath (which means Spain), and the tile is consistent with but not limited to that, so we'll go with his interpretation. Additionally, the slave is black, which would be normal for Moorish Spain or maybe for Egypt (though Egyptian slaves tended to be lighter than that), but not for Turkey. The third one, while it doesn't say it, is also a Moorish bath. That kind of fountain room is very similar to a Roman bathing room, and the tile work is also a Moorish type. And you're very correct about the black woman. See the anklets she has on both sides, and the big cuff? All are a type of jewelry reserved for slaves.

So basically what we have here is a mishmash of cultural references. Additionally, all of these things are things he couldn't possible have seen, since men were not allowed in harems, other than the eunuchs who guarded them from the outside, and who were not seen as real men because they had been castrated.

My best guess about the questions is that he is simply presenting a romanticized version of the "mysterious" orient (remember that back then oriental also referred to the Middle East). During the Victorian age, it was common for wealthy people to take the "Grand Tour". Americans went to Europe, often for months or a year, and did Egypt if they could (that was the most popular destination in the Middle East because of the antiquities--Jerusalem and holy sites were also popular). Europeans also visited Egypt in large numbers on their "Grand Tours". There was a type of mystique about what went on in the private rooms and harems, and all I can think is that he's trying to appeal to that, rather than making a broad statement about any of the cultures involved. None of them relate very much to traditional Arab culture. If anything, they relate to Moorish and Turkish culture.

The subject matter, women bathing, could be seen as referring to cleanliness, but one would expect it to be a different kind of cleansing in that case: the ritual washing before prayers. The only other reason I can think of for depicting these subjects is to make a comment about the lives of leisure of wealthy women, and the amount of time they had to devote to what are, essentially, beauty rituals. The absence of men makes sense, so I don't think it means much, unless he's trying to depict how women were considered a type of property (the presence of slaves echoes that) whose job it was to stay fresh and beautiful at all times in case they were called upon to present themselves for lovemaking.

Do you see why I am so confused by it all? There is no single unifying element in any of it, other than the bathing, and the meaning of the bathing is not made clear at all.

I'll think about it some more, and if I have anything else which might actually be helpful, I'll come back and try to add a bit more.

Good luck :(

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