Charlotte's blog wrote about The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting at the Tate gallery in London (June-Aug 2008). The exhibition brought together paintings by British artists of the Orient i.e eastern Mediterranean countries under the control of the Ottoman Empire till WW2, although most of the paintings were 19th century.
Weisse, Nubian Guard
Gender issues were important. A number of themes structured the exhibition: Orientalist portraits demonstrated the fashion for adopting the dress of foreign countries by travellers like T.E. Lawrence; Genre and Gender explored the gendering of public and private spaces, although Charlotte felt this was more fully covered in the section on Home and Harem which drew attention to female travellers who could, unlike their male counterparts, access exclusively female places like the harem.
Not surprisingly, the idea of an all female harem, representing beauties in lavishly appointed settings fed the imagination of C19th artists. This was to such an extent that there were many images of women reclining, bathing or being bathed, and exotic dancers. But were strong, handsome and possibly dangerous males depicted as well?
Weisse, Nubian Guard
The Harem Guard by Jean Discart 1885 was magnificent in its detail and exotic in its subject matter. Guards of the Harem by Ludwig Deutsch depicted the never-ending boredom endured by these colourful men. Rudolph Ernst's favourite compositional technique of depicting his subjects from a low perspective, heightening their grandeur and presence eg Guard at the Harem. Note the favourite props that reappeared often, such as the Indo-Persian helmets, shields, exquisitely embroidered green silk fabric and ornate faience tiles.
These men were far from weakened, effeminate eunuchs. The guards, as depicted by the European male artists, had determined, masculine faces and bodies. Plus they carried nasty weapons. One of my favourites is in Images by Gro. Standing in front of an arch that closely resembles the architecture of the Alhambra in Spain, the Moorish Chief by the Austrian artist Eduard Charlemont does indeed exude power and mystery. Another is in Painting History.
The Orientalist Gallery has an unusual image of a handsome male, lounging in front of fire place alongside an equally handsome and very alert tiger. The Sheik's Favourite by Rudolph Ernst was fully armed, like the other males in this article, but presumably his favourite status allowed him to guard in comfort.