Work of Art

Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme

Completion Date: c.1870

Style: Academicism

Genre: genre painting

Technique: oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 84 x 122 cm

Gallery: Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA


Painted in 1870, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer represents Nineteenth-Century Academicism at its height. In his age, Gérôme occupied the highest position in the art world. Teaching at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he influenced many pupils and even became a fixture of the Imperial Court at Compiègne. Gérôme emerged as a major Academicist painter and his highly stylized, layered canvases reflect his training. Striving for synthesis between Neoclassisism and Romanticism, the Academicists dominated Parisian mid-Nineteenth Century art circles. After rigid, hierarchical training in specialized ateliers, they emerged into the limelight with exhibitions at the Paris Salon and Salon d’Automne. If successful, the artist would enjoy a prosperous, rewarding public career. Jean-Léon Gérôme, William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Thomas Couture all basked in their bourgeois audience’s acclaim during their respective careers. Their paintings typically depicted mythological themes with an emphasis on idealized figuration and romanticized settings. Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer depicts an Orientalist scene of imaginative wonder for its viewers.

When examining Academicist Orientalist paintings, one must remember that they are fantastic images of the Orient through Western eyes. Like Perrault’s Arabian Nights and Burton’s travelogues, they illustrate wild scenes of Ottoman seraglios, dueling Mamelukes and vertiginous dervishes. The Snake Charmer frames its setting with walls of blue mosaic inscribed with Arabic calligraphy. Seated on the floor are several tribesmen, who gaze enraptured at the spectacle before them. An aged  مُلاَعِبُ الأفَاعِي ( السّامّة ) (snake charmer) ensorcells a boa constrictor as it winds around a pubescent’s nubile frame. Gérôme focuses the viewer’s attention on the odalisque’s effulgent body through chiaroscuric detailing and luminous oils. Holding aloft the anvil-headed serpent, she artfully displays it before her spellbound assemblage. We are meant to engross ourselves in this Asiatic spectacle as it tantalizingly unfolds before us. Utterly alien to the Septième Arrondissement, it offers a momentary gustation of alluring Turkish delights.



About Peter Sayles

Peter Sayles ist eine junge rechtsextremistischem und glühender New Englander