Arabesques, calligraphy, Claude Debussy, Exoticism, Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Madame Récamier, Odalisque, Orientalism, Stephen Malinowski
The Turkish Bath, 1862, oil on canvas, diam. 108 cm, Louvre. A summation of the theme of female voluptuousness attractive to Ingres throughout his life, rendered in the circular format of earlier masters. (Caption credit: Wikipedia; Photo credit: Google images)
Grande Odalisque, 1814, oil on canvas, 91 x 162 cm, Louvre. The subject’s elongated proportions, reminiscent of 16th-century Mannerist painters, reflect Ingres’s search for the pure form of his model. (Photo and caption credit: Wikipedia)
We have seen a few examples of Islamic art and Orientalisme. The paintings featured above are by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (29 August 1780 – 14 January 1867) and constitute examples of orientalisme and exoticism, paintings associated with the Orient, the Near East. Several Europeans had gone to the Crusades centuries earlier. Their destination was Jerusalem, the Holy Land. But 19th-century orientalisme is associated with Napoléon‘s military campaigns. Napoléon took his Armée d’Orient to Egypt and Syria. (See French Campaign in Egypt and Syria, Wikipedia.) Egyptology was born at that time. Deciphering the Rosetta Stone, found in 1799, was one of its first and chief achievements.
We looked at the art of Jean-Léon Gérôme who had travelled to Egypt and returned with a large supply of ‘images,’ sketches. He depicted scenes from ordinary activities, genre painting. Ingres, however, had not travelled to the orient, the Near East. His style was the same as Gérôme: academicism. Moreover, both artists specialized in historical painting. Several artists travelled to the Near East, but no Orientaliste ever entered a harem, un sérail, where women were guarded by castrated servants called eunuchs. Yet, Orientalists did paint the interior of harems and Turkish baths, favourite scenes.
“Some of the most popular Orientalist genre scenes—and the ones most influential in shaping Western aesthetics—depict harems. Probably denied entrance to authentic seraglios, male artists relied largely on hearsay and imagination, populating opulently decorated interiors with luxuriant odalisques, or female slaves or concubines (many with Western features), reclining in the nude or in Oriental dress. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) never traveled to the East, but used the harem setting to conjure an erotic ideal in his voluptuous odalisques.” (Orientalisme at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Ingres’ Grande Odalisque shows an elongated female body. Painting elongated figures is a characteristic of 16th-century mannerism. However, Ingres’ odalisque is somewhat reminiscent of the curvy linear arabesque motifs of Islamic art. Yet, it isn’t busy. La Grande Odalisque has been an inspiration to several artists, one of whom is Matisse. It otherwise ressembles Jacques-Louis David‘s (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825) depiction of Madame Récamier, an unfinished but celebrated portrait. For information on this painting, see Madame Récamier, Louvre. You may also visit the Wikipedia site on Juliette Récamier.
Juliette Récamier (4 December 1777 – 11 May 1849) was a salonnière who had married Jacques-Rose Récamier (1751 – 1830), a wealthy older man and banker, on 24 April 1793. The marriage was never consummated and rumour has it that he was her father. In 1805, Jacques-Rose sustained financial losses. (See Juliette Récamier, Wikipedia.) He and Juliette had a salon where they entertained distinguished guests, but she retired at l’Abbaye-aux-Bois. The salons survived the French Revolution. Juliette had befriended François-René de Chateaubriand (4 September 1768 –4 July 1848), the author of Le Génie du Christianisme (1802), a literary monument that incorporated Atala and René, exotic novellas based on Chateaubriand’s stay in North America. He was an aristocrat and therefore fled France during part of the French Revolution. When Chateaubriand started to live as a recluse, Juliette Récamier was the only person he visited. He visited her every day. In David’s painting, she is leaning on a sofa now called a récamier, after her. By clicking on Madame Récamier, one can read what the Louvre has to say about this very famous painting.
Orientalisme also includes Arabesques in music.
Arabesques, Turkish music, are composed in the Phrygian mode. This form of music was used by Claude Debussy and other composers. It was orientalisme, “in the manner of,” rather than Turkish music. I have inserted two pieces by Debussy.
There are several orientaliste painters. You will find names: Eugène Delacroix, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Jean-Léon Gérôme, William Holman Hunt, etc. at Orientalisme, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), in New York. Our black bashi-basouk, an irregular soldier, or mercenary (a hired soldier), is housed at the MMA, in New York.
Let me conclude by recommending you read Orientalisme and Madame Récamier. At this point, my continuing to write about this topic would be repetitious and not as and complete and concise as the documents I have referred to. I will note, however, that interest in the Orient takes us back to Marco Polo and the above-mentioned Crusades. Moreover, Islamic art includes elegant calligraphy, Islamic calligraphy, and illuminated manuscripts.
Love to every one. ♥
- Chateaubriand’s Atala (24 April 2014)
- On Madame de Staël (12 March 2014)
- The Nineteenth Century in France (5 March 2014)
- Salons and Cafés survive “la terreur” (19 February 2014)
Sources and Resources
- Souvenirs et correspondance tirées des papiers de Madame Récamier is a Gutenberg publication [EBook #25403]
- Various items at Internet Archive
- Orientalisme at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Madame Récamier at the Louvre
- The Zykes-Picot Agreement
 Meagher, Jennifer. “Orientalism in Nineteenth-Century Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/euor/hd_euor.htm (October 2004)
Arabesque Nos 1 & 2
Stephen Malinowski (piano and animation)
© Micheline Walker
27 August 2016