The Image of Slavery in Orientalist Painting

Eric Edwards Collected Works

In art historical terms, Orientalism refers to subject matter portraying the Near East by western artists and reflects closer 19th century European political involvement with the Near East. Essentially a 19th century phenomenon, Orientalism was an aspect of Romanticism that became a standard theme in which artists throughout Europe specialised. A prevalent form was genre painting with numerous harem and slave-market scenes. The Orientalist concern to create erotic idealisation rather than sociological fact had a profound affect on European perceptions of the region because of the belief that the mysterious Near East could “…satisfy the West’s urge for exotic experience.” (Stevens, 1984).

Orientalists portrayed scenes of contemporary ‘Oriental’ slavery that allowed their viewing public to feast their eyes on the barbarity of the slave trade. Slave-market scenes, as essentially harem scenes, and sensualised images of female slaves were seen as highly erotic. The Woman with a Parrot (1827) by Eugene…

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