The essay of Prayer in the Mosque


This is a description of a painting by one of the students of Jean-Leon Gerome, Paul-Marie Lenoir, on their visit to the mosque of Amr in Cairo Egypt in 1868. The painting of the prayer in the mosque is done on a canvas with oil. In the picture worshippers stand in rows and are engaged in Islamic players. Some birds are also seen on the floor and above in the beams. A picture is also painted of a young man half nude, who is standing outside the formal straight line of worshippers.  To describe it in detail, the painter depicts a linear perspective of columns and arches, with distinct vanishing points that the painter describes with the disappearing horizon line. Above these bars he arranged the beams in a grid manner. The floor of the artwork is a masterpiece of well patterned tiles. To compensate this order and the vanishing points the artist, matches the horizons with regular rows of worshippers. Arrangement of objects and images in the painting is therefore symmetrical.  The use of geometric arrangement of objects in space in this painting helps to bring out the theme. That worshipper looks like they are static and immobilized like the architecture forms around them, as if some dominant forces are in control of them

How were people of various races portrayed during the century?

In this period some people considered themselves as being superior to the rest. For instance in Europe Jews were seen as an inferior race and having certain weak physical and personality characteristics. European powers like the French, German, and Britain on the other hand dominated other races. They conquered them and expand their territories. Islam’s were also taken as an inferior religion and the Roman movement with its Christianity was considered superior. North Africans were also considered as backward, primitive and lawless and they deserved to be colonized and westernized.

How did Orientalism and exoticism further the study, or problematize the subject of race in art?

Orientalism is the understanding of the East by the Western. The discipline expanded in the mid-nineteenth century. However, racism also increased along the value to understand the oriental.  For instance popular stereotypes and attitudes that Orientals were hard to make out and cunning. Ideas of scholars studying the East were therefore intertwined with these biases. For instance, they considered religions and arts of the East to be inferior to those of the ideals of Romans. Oriental paintings in the period were in some case used as propaganda to popularize imperialism by French (Meagher 1). In such cases Eastern countries were shown as place where before French came had been backward, primitive and without laws. This was a way of defending colonialism as a means to rescue the Orientals from their backwardness.

Which artists dealt with racial “types,” and how did specific artists speak to racial issues in their works?

Pinder in her work discuss some of the artistic works of Gerome as being of racist themes. For instance, his Phryne painting, that shows a naked woman in the tribunal (76). In his work Gerome depicts women as being dominated by masculine powers. This work also depicted that the white people race was more superior to other races, especially races that were involved in trades of slaves in their nude. Another artist who deals with these paintings is Eugene Delacroix. His work featured themes of cruelty and violence (Meagher 1). These include paintings where in most cases the west dominated the blacks, such as French conquest of Algeria in 1830.

What political events in the century lead to art that dealt with these issues?

Colonialism was prevalent in this time and it’s viewed as the main influence of orientalist paintings. For instance, when Gerome’s picture of the snake charmer was taken, political events are reported to have been taking place around the same period and venue. Napoleon III government is said to have been keen on modernizing itself around ottoman government. French began many government projects that would transform her orient to similar ways like her. These include an education system and also railway line that connected Istanbul, Salonica and Middle Danube (Nochlin, 36).

What is the history of your chosen artwork and how does it fit within this theme?

The player in the mosque painting is based on the travels made to the Near East by Gerome, specifically North Africa. It specifically refers to a visit of ‘Amr Mosque in Cairo on 1868. According to Nochlin, one year before the date of this Gerome visit, French had taken advantage of a famine in Algeria to convert orphans in exchange for food. In 1871, there was the Holy War, where Islam revolted against French colonization and oppression (51). She goes on to argue why this picture falls under this theme of racism. That Gerome choice of Cairo for the painting was deliberately to avoid the French North Africa. He depicted Islamic worshiper as immobilized and static as the architecture buildings around them. According to her, the use of picturesque like this is to hide the conflict and instead demonstrate peaceful atmosphere. It is also used to show that the dominant culture has been eroded by the new ways.

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