The Forum: Journal of History


As visual texts of subjectivity and ideology, paintings are uniquely useful tools for historical analysis. Peaking in popularity in nineteenth-century Europe, the enduring erotic mystification of the Turkish seraglio manifested frequently in the form of paintings. At this time, French academicism and realism rose in status internationally and, bolstered by the esteem of the Paris Salon and the competitiveness generated by the advent of photography, so too did elaborately (and misleadingly) detailed depictions of the Orient. This paper concerns the inherent politics of French depictions of Turkish odalisques, focusing on the orientalist discourse generated by the quasi-realistic style of nineteenth-century French academic artists. I define pictorial orientalism through the words of theorists Edward Said, Linda Nochlin, and Malek Alloula, then use them to analyze five harem-themed paintings in order to prove that French artists in the nineteenth century both reflected and further entrenched orientalist values by fetishizing and alienating female colonial subjects as orientalist ideographs.