Portrayals of the “Oriental” in Paintings of Eugene Delacroix

Topics: Orientalism, Western world, Eugène Delacroix Pages: 5 (1843 words) Published: November 21, 2009
The world of the “exotic” and strangeness is an inherently interesting subject matter among people. Fascinations with the “other” world are depicted in poems, novels, literary descriptions and art as an attempt to understand, romanticise or exploit another culture. The Napoleonic expedition to Egypt from 1798 to 1799 brought forth a heightened interest among artists to explore the world of the Oriental and spurred a torrent of “Orientalists” which became a pervasive force in 19th Century Western art. An “Orientalist” is rather a broad term to describe artists who either portrayed an oriental theme or used the oriental as a subject matter, whether or not the artist has travelled and experienced the foreign lands or have stayed within the boundaries of their studios. Depictions of the Oriental in visual representations influence the Western perception as images materialize into the public realm. Some portrayals of Eastern culture are forms of documentations from an objective perspective while other portrayals are subjugated to the myths and fantasies produced from within European society that affects the stereotyping of class, race and gender of the Oriental. I will be discussing four paintings by a 19th century Orientalist painter, Eugene Delacroix: The Massacre of Chios (1824), The Death of Sardanapalus (1827), Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), and The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage (1845), as an attempt to observe the myths, stereotypes of class, race and gender of the Orient that have the potential to arise in images produced by the artist. Visions of the exotic, whether positive or negative, are frequently romanticized by Oriental artists. By romanticized I mean the images are from a subjective perspective, appealing to the imagination of the artist, and provoking emotions through the spectators with the use of exaggeration or partiality. The Massacre of Chios is a response from Delacroix to an actual event in 1822 during the Greek’s struggle for independence from the Ottomans. The Turkish troops took revenge for the rebellions by killing 20,000 innocent people on the island of Chios while selling the rest to slavery despite the fact that a vast majority of people living on the island of Chios did not participate in the revolt against the Turks. Though Delacroix represents an actual event in history, the scene itself is imagined to appeal to his own understanding and interpretation of the event and to appeal particular emotions from the viewer. The Turkish troop is characterized as the savage, villainous instigators of violence and war. For example, the Turkish soldier rearing a horse on the right appears to be merciless as he forcefully captures a Greek woman and ties her to the end of his horse. The Greeks, on the other hand, are in the forefront and confronts the viewer, displaying a sense of victimization in their posture and gaze. They lie in heaps; seemingly huddle together for comfort from the terrors of the massacre. Their stares seem to be blank, projecting apathy and helplessness to their situation. The viewers are compelled to feel sympathy for the victims as they lay waiting, exhausted and hopeless, for their terrible fate, and feel horror and disgust at the brutality of the Turks. The romanticized view of the oriental is also prevalent in The Death of Sardanapalus. In contrast to The Massacre of Chios, the scene in The Death of Sardanapalus is not derived from reality but rather a fantastical creation, constructed from a legend and influenced by a diverse number of pictorial and literary sources. The denouement of the Assyrian monarch, Sardanapalus, caught the interest of and inspired Delacroix. In the story, after living a life of debauchery the Assyrian monarch decides to end the immorality by ordering his servants to destroy all the pleasures of his life, including his odalisques, riches, pets and attendants, and burn to ashes with him in his funeral pyre. In the image, the Assyrian...
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