Summary of Orientalism
Populating their paintings with snake charmers, veiled women, and courtesans, Orientalist artists created and disseminated fantasy portrayals of the exotic 'East' for European viewers. Although earlier examples exist, Orientalism primarily refers to Western (particularly English and French) painting, architecture and decorative arts of the 19th century that utilize scenes, settings, and motifs drawn from a range of countries including Turkey, Egypt, India, China, and Algeria. Although some artists strove for realism, many others subsumed the individual cultures and practices of these countries into a generic vision of the Orient and as historian Edward Said notes in his influential book, Orientalism (1978), "the Orient was almost a European invention...a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiments". Falling broadly under Academic Art, the Orientalist movement covered a range of subjects and genres from grand historical and biblical paintings to nudes and domestic interiors.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- One of the keys genres of Orientalism was the harem picture. Denied access to actual seraglios, male artists relied on hearsay and imagination to depict opulent interiors and beautiful women, many of whom were Western in appearance. The genre also allowed artists to depict erotic nudes and highly sexual narratives outside of a mythological context as their exotic location distanced the Western viewer sufficiently to make them morally permissible.
- Orientalism disseminated and reinforced a range of stereotypes associated with Eastern cultures most notably regarding a lack of 'civilized' behavior and perceived differences in morality, sexual practices, and character of the inhabitants. This often aligned with propaganda campaigns initiated by Britain and France as colonializing powers and images are best viewed within the context of Europe's political and economic relationships with Eastern countries.
- Many Orientalist images are infused with rich colors, particularly oranges, golds and reds (although blue tiles are also prevalent) as well as decorative details and these operated in conjunction with the use of light and shadow to create a sense of dusty heat that Westerners would associate with the prevailing view of the Orient.
Overview of Orientalism
From 1463 to 1479 Venice was at war with the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Mehmet II. Venice was defeated in a number of regions and subsequently forced to pay indemnities to continue trading on the Black Sea. In 1479, the Venetian government sent Gentile Bellini, the official court painter for the Doge of Venice, as a cultural ambassador to work for the Sultan. Bellini returned to Venice in 1481 but he continued to include Oriental motifs in his artwork and this can be seen in St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria (1504-1507).