Representing the Harem, 18001875
The idea of the harem has fascinated Western observers for centuries. The
pervasiveness of the harem representation constitutes a rich cultural tradition
that has not been fully acknowledged in previous scholarship on nineteenth-century
French and British art. This study offers fresh contexts for many of the most
well-known nineteenth-century harem pictures, such as J. A. D. Ingress
infamous Grande Odalisque (1814), Eugène Delacroixs subtle
Women of Algiers (1834), and the highly detailed pictures of John Frederick
Lewis, the major harem painter of the British school. Also considered are less
well-known harem pictures including Edouard Manets important La Sultane
(c. 1870) and a group of pre-Impressionist paintings, images from the Greek
War of Independence, book illustrations, and over fifty French popular prints,
rarely published until now.
This book addresses artists and writers preoccupation with the
theme and considers why the harem was subject to binary thinking about the self
and other. As the means of structuring upper-class Muslim marriage and family,
the harem allowed Western observers to reconsider their understanding of Christian
marriage and personal freedom. The harem was viewed as the extension into private
life of the political principle of Eastern despotism, and thus provided commentators
and artists the opportunity to contrast Turkish, Egyptian, or North African
governments with Western democracies while reflecting upon Europes own
Several of the patterns into which these representations fall are examined as a kind of Orientalist grammar. On the one hand, the harem woman was stereotyped as a jealous rival, negligent mother, adulterous wife, perverse lesbian, exotic prostitute, indolent narcissist, extravagant consumer, and sexually precocious child.
On the other hand, she was idealized as a loving mother, devout nun, cordial
hostess, obedient servant, and gentle houri offering pleasure in Paradise.
Using postcolonial and other theories, this book analyzes how stereotyping fulfills
the viewers need for identity formation. The struggle over difference
evoked by harem representations is linked to the colonialist dynamic of dominance
To inform a reading of more than 170 pictures, this study examines impressions
of the harem and slavery recorded by politicians, feminists, abolitionists,
writers, and travelers such as John Ruskin, Harriet Martineau, Gérard
de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Lord Byron, Alphonse de Lamartine, Napoleon Bonaparte,
Edward William Lane, and Florence Nightingale. Also considered are innumerable
anonymous writings from the Victorian press and eighteenth-century works by
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Wollstonecraft, Montesquieu, and Wolfgang Amadeus
This highly original study takes the provocative stance that the reality of
harem womens lives cannot be fully grasped through these harem representations,
which are invented and self-referential though some were consid
ered ethnographic and scientific in their day.
In clear and lively language the author articulates complex issues about gender, class, and race understood cross-culturally. The book will appeal to students and scholars in a number of disciplines: French and British art history, history, and literature; Middle Eastern studies; feminist studies; postcolonial studies; cultural studies; politics; and anthropology. It is directed to those seeking to deepen their understanding of nineteenth-century British and French culture.
Advance Praise for Multiple Wives, Multiple Pleasures
There has long been a lacuna in Victorian studies on representations of the East in nineteenth-century art, and this very original and engaging book nobly fills that gap. . . . There is nothing at all comparable to this masterful, multi-disciplinary text. Joan DelPlato provides a useful reading of . . . stereotyping with clarity, sensitivity, and critical soundness. . . . Throughout the text is lucid and well-organized. The authors . . . research is impeccable as well as ambitious. There is little jargon to cloud readers from various areas. Her methodology and attitude reflect new critical approaches to the nineteenth century. . . . DelPlato breaks new ground in many fields and offers . . . a potentially commanding contribution primarily in art history and cultural studies.
Susan P. Casteras, University of Washington
Joan DelPlatos highly informative book. . . takes the veil off almost a century of harem mythologiesranging from sexual practices, to clothing, to ethnic and racial stereotyping, to child-rearing. Focusing on such topics as fetishism, morality, and slavery, and lavishly illustrated with contemporary prints, [this book] is a rich source of information and ideas.
Linda Nochlin, New York University Institute of Fine Arts
Orientalism has become something of a cottage industry since
the publication of Edward Saids foundational text, but for all of the
specialized spin-offs there is yet to be a thorough deconstruction of harem
representations, so pervasive in both high and low culture of the nineteenth
century. Joan DelPlatos book, an unusually rich and rewarding investigation,
remedies this gap, transporting us directly into both the imaginary and real
space of the seraglio and at the same time revealing the double nature of othering
in the colonialist era that commented on sex, marriage, and family in both hemispheres.
Albert Boime, UCLA
This is an extremely timely and important book. Joan DelPlato offers
critical re-readings of the key visual images by which the western imaginary
used the . . . stereotype of the harem to explore its own contradictory relations
to women, slavery, and sexuality. This book will surely be a benchmark study
in this area.
Griselda Pollock, University of Leeds
About the Author
Joan DelPlato is Professor of Art History at Simons Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where she teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century art history, critical theory, and womens studies. Her research interests include Victorian painting and poetry, Harlem Renaissance art, and contemporary art sponsorship. She earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in art history from UCLA and a B.A. in art history from the University of Buffalo. She was awarded a Millard Meiss Publication Grant from the College Art Association for the production of this book.
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Table of Contents 1 Table of Contents 2
Index 1 Index 2 Index 3 Index 4 Index 5 Index 6
Index 7 Index 8 Index 9 Index 10 Index 11 Index 12
Index 13 Index 14 Index 15
Dickinson University Press
London: Associated University Presses
Printed in the U.S.A.
Jacket illustration: Odalisque (1831?), by Achille Jacques Jean Marie Devéria. Courtesy of the
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena, Ca.