Orientalist painting in the 18th and 19th is arguably one of the best way to study Islamic art and architecture. Although some of the subject matter are inaccurate or downright fantasy of the painter – given most of them only visited the Middle Eastern countries briefly, or never at all – the background of each painting tells a story of Islamic aesthetics.
Here I share several pieces of Orientalist paintings from the time period. I will attempt to describe the time period, the location, the accuracy – or not- of the subject matter, and the authenticity of the costumes and props of the subject and it’s background . In no way my observation are definitive but they are nothing but my own views and appreciation.
The earlier Orientalist paint (Pre 18th Century) usually depicts western subjects in Middle East clothing, or sceneries (perhaps imagined by the painters) or the East. Earlier on, Persian carpets were a favourite detail in the form of table covering (Persian and Oriental carpets back then were very precious and it is an obvious choice to put it on elevated surfaces instead of below the feet) An exception, in my studies regarding this “rule” would e in religious paintings, where oriental and persian carpets were placed directly beneath a religious figure, the Virgin Mary, for example. Perhaps this is a show of superiority of Christendom over Islam? or merely an adoration of the exotic?
Andrea del Verrocchio (c.1435-1488) was an influential Florentine sculptor, goldsmith and painter who worked at the court of Lorenzo de Medici. His pupils included Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, but he also influenced Michelangelo. He worked in the serenely classic style of the Early-High Renaissance. (wikipedia)
In this example you can see the Oriental type carpet underneath the feet of the Virgin, as well as St. John’s right feet.
Solothurn Madonna (1522) By Hans Holbein the Younger.
Hans Holbein the Younger (German: Hans Holbein der Jüngere; c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was a German painter and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style, and is considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire, and Reformation propaganda, and he made a significant contribution to the history of book design. He is called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his father Hans Holbein the Elder, an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic school. (Wikipedia)
The carpet depicted wasn’t strictly of the Persian or the Orient Carpet variety, on the border of the carpet is a psedo-arabic script.
A lady at the virginals with a gentleman, known as ‘The Music Lesson (1662-1665) by Johanees Vermeer.
Johannes Vermeer (UK: , US: , Dutch: [joːˈɦɑnəs fərˈmeːr]; October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings. (Wikipedia)
Perhaps one of my favorite paintings by Johanees (The first would be of course, the Girl with a Pearl Earring) The painting clearly depicts an oriental carpet spread upon a table in the foreground.
Portrait of Lady Theresia Shirley, in Ottoman style outfit.
Sir Anthony van Dyck (Dutch pronunciation: [vɑn ˈdɛi̯k], many variant spellings; 22 March 1599 – 9 December 1641) was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. (Wikipedia)
During the 18th century, the fascination and interest of the orient are still a favourite subject of the Orientalism painters. As painters and officials can now access the previously closed off courts of the Ottoman empire (and the rest of the Islamic World) the interest in oriental fashion and ways became more and more apparent. One example would be a court painting depicting officials wearing Arab or Turkish style garbs. Paintings of Royal Courts in the Ottoman empires also emerge during this period, offering a glimpse of life in the Islamic world during that time, albeit only in the Royal circle.
Portrait of Charles Gravier Count of Vergennes and French Ambassador, in Turkish Attire
Chevalier Antoine de Favray (8 September 1706, Bagnolet – 9 February 1798, Malta) was a French painter noted for his portraits of personalities of the Ottoman Empire, as well as paintings of Grand Masters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. (Wikipedia)
Here we see the count in full Ottoman regalia, complete with the Tesbih (prayer beads) in his left hand. However the authenticity of the outfit is not known (at least to me)
Painting of Mehmet Said Efendi and his Retinue
Georg Engelhard Schröder (31 May 1684 – 17 May 1750), also spelled George Engelhardt Schroeder, was a Swedish painter. (Wikipedia)
The 19th century would be arguably my favourite period for Orientalist paintings. The peak in Islamic culture peak during this period, and with that there are drastically more paintings spread across multiple subjects. However, it may have been imagined by the painters. One must study each of the painting and the painter himself to know the actual subject or the authenticity of the scene. Some of them, especially the painters who have no direct access of the Islamic culture and/or very limited exposure might actually imagine the scene.
Personnages orientaux en forêt.
Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña (20 August 1807 – 18 November 1876) was a French painter of the Barbizon school. (Wikipedia)
I cannot find any more information about this painting, but I think this painting might be imagined by Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña. For one, I don’t think anyone would camp out casually in the middle of a forest. Secondly the outfits seems to be off. This is one of the earliest example of Orientalist painting in the 19th Century.
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (Russian: Васи́лий Васи́льевич Вереща́гин, October 26, 1842 – April 13, 1904), was one of the most famous Russian war artists and one of the first Russian artists to be widely recognised abroad. (Wikipedia)
This charming painting is called Самарканд in Russian, and it depicts a (market?) scene in Turkestan.
Stanisław Chlebowski (1835–1884) was a Polish painter with Russian and Turkish connections. He was a renowned specialist in Oriental theme (Wikipedia).
I am not sure whether this is imagined, but the details shows that the painter have substantial knowledge of the Orient. The details like the carper, the six-pointed star grilles, the Iznik tiles and the outfit of the subject seems to show a very good knowledge of the Ottoman empire.
The Gates of the Khalif – 1887
William Logsdail (25 May 1859 – 3 September 1944) was a prolific English landscape, portrait, and genre painter. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Grosvenor Gallery, the New Gallery (London), and others. He is notable for his realistic London and Venice scenes and his plein air style.(Wikipedia)
I Think this is an authentic scene. Apparently this gate is or was somewhere in Egypt or Morocco . The details are astounding, from the women and her children, to the sitting women on the camel, to the outfit of the men. However i cannot confirm whether this scene is imagined or an amalgamation of the artists view of the orient – as I am seeing a Moroccan style costume , and Arab style outfit.
Mufti Reading in His Prayer Stool
Jean-Léon Gérôme (11 May 1824 – 10 January 1904) was a French painter and sculptor in the style now known as academicism. The range of his oeuvre included historical painting, Greek mythology, Orientalism, portraits, and other subjects, bringing the academic painting tradition to an artistic climax. He is considered one of the most important painters from this academic period. He was also a teacher with a long list of students. (Wikipedia)
Jean-Léon Gérôme is probably one of my favourite Orientalist painter, because of his meticulous attention to detail. This particular painting charms me because of the details in the stool as well as the tiles in the back.