Thursday, November 20, 2014

19C Orientalism - Elegant male Odalisque

Egisto Sarri (Italian artist, 1837-1901) Man on a Divan

Odalisque comes from a Turkish suffix expressing a function, sort of as English "er" or "ary" might when added to a noun. And oda is a room, here a chamber in a harem.  The odalisque traditionally refers to the female slave or servant in the harem of a Turkish sultan. The term was adopted during the 19C by academic Europe as a form of artistic eroticism in orientalism.  In an interesting twist, Turkish writer Melek Hanum (Hanim) [1814-1873] used the word odalisque referring to a slave as she wrote: "If any lady possesses a pretty-looking slave, the fact soon gets known. The gentlemen who wish to buy an odalisque for a wife, make their offers. Many Turks, indeed, prefer to take a slave as a wife, as, in such case, there is no need to dread fathers, mothers, or brothers-in-law, and other undesirable relations."  So much for troublesome in-laws.

Orientalism is a term used by art, literary, & cultural studies scholars for the depiction of aspects of Middle Eastern & Eastern cultures by writers & artists from Western cultures. Orientalist painting, depicting mostly "the Middle East" was one of the many areas of 19C art.  Painting a male as an odalisque raises questions about pleasure, sex, abuse, gender roles, homophobia, etc.