Orientalism is a popular trend in Western culture to create works of art using exotic oriental motives, plots and styles. Orientalism opens the world of the East to the viewer in a romantic-attractive and rather conventional way. This trend has gradually developed in Europe based on many sources: oriental legends and literature, travel and scientific work, works of art and archaeological discoveries.
Orientalism is a way of perceiving the East from the point of view of an artist belonging to the European Christian civilization. According to numerous critics, he has nothing to do with a true understanding of Eastern culture, but only tries to copy its external features.
The influence of orientalism on painting genres
Orientalism in the visual arts has manifested itself in many popular genres. The audience enthusiastically accepted the paintings, painted on a variety of topics:
- scenes from the lives of rulers and ordinary people;
- artistic descriptions of harems and baths;
- monumental historical battles;
- landscape compositions;
- portraits of prominent personalities of the East.
In many works of artists, there is a nude female nature. The painters deliberately gave their works a pronounced erotic character in order to attract the attention of the viewer.
Orientalism first appeared in European visual arts in the middle of the 18th century during the Rococo era. An embellished image of reality and exquisite decorativeness are inherent in this style. First in France, and then in other European countries, there was a fashion for works of art created in the Turkish style – “turkeri”. The painters of that era quickly responded to the needs of society and began to paint pictures with idyllic scenes from the imaginary life of the Turks. Portraits of nobles in exotic costumes were also in great demand.
The Egyptian campaign of Napoleon at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries became the starting point for the formation of Romantic Orientalism. Together with Bonaparte, not only the military, but also a number of artists went to Egypt. Upon returning home, they brought with them to Europe many sketches from nature.
On their basis, already in 1809, the first volume of the scientific work “Description of Egypt” was published, and a total of 29 monumental volumes with colorful illustrations were printed by the end of 1829. Artists have received a truly inexhaustible source of inspiration to create works on exotic themes.
In 1801, the artist Antoine-Jean Gros painted the Battle of Nazareth, which depicted the battle between the French and the Turks. For this work, he was awarded the National Painting Prize, and Orientalism was enthusiastically received by the public.
Under the influence of Gro, other famous French painters later often turned to oriental themes:
- Eugène Delacroix
- Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
In the middle of the 19th century, Orientalism became very popular in England as well. Its most prominent representatives include the following artists:
- William Holman Hunt;
- David Roberts;
- John Frederick Lewis.
In Russia, the outstanding artist Vasily Vereshchagin made a huge contribution to the development of Orientalism. His famous Turkestan series of paintings was a huge success in the master’s homeland. Today, all the works of this collection are in the best Russian museums: the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum.
Since the second half of the 19th century, there has been a significant expansion in the geographical sense of the concept of “orientalism”. It was originally used only to describe works of art based on Middle Eastern and North African motives. But at the World Exhibitions in London (1864) and Paris (1867), samples of Japanese art (prints, porcelain, lacquerware) were first presented to the general public. In the wake of the deafening success of the exhibitions, a whole new direction in painting arose – “japanism”.
Today, the term “Orientalism” refers to works of art based on Arabic, Turkish, African, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Polynesian and many other exotic motives.
Orientalism in other arts
Interest in oriental culture, in addition to painting and sculpture, already in the 19th century, to a large extent, affected other types of art. In aristocratic circles, unusual pieces of furniture (ottomans and couches) and clothing (robe, turban, fez) began to be in demand.
In architecture, Orientalism has manifested itself with the emergence of a number of new styles:
19th century architects designed all kinds of buildings with elements of exquisite oriental motives:
- synagogues and trade pavilions;
- theaters and villas;
- palaces and cafes;
- pagodas and mosques.
This tradition continued in the twentieth century, with the emergence of new stylistic trends in architecture: Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
The works of many brilliant composers can be considered vivid examples of Orientalism in music:
- Giuseppe Verdi – opera Aida;
- Giacomo Puccini – operas Madame Butterfly and Turandot;
- Pyotr Tchaikovsky – Arabic dance from the ballet The Nutcracker;
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – the opera “The Golden Cockerel” and the symphonic suite “Scheherazade”.
In literature, prominent writers often turned to oriental motives in their work:
- Rudyard Kipling
- Claude Farrère
- Gustave Flaubert Mikhail Lermontov;
- Nikolay Gumilyov.
In the twentieth century, Orientalism has become an integral part of popular cinema. Outstanding scriptwriters and directors have repeatedly turned to oriental themes when creating commercially successful blockbusters.
The most striking examples of such works are:
- The Mummy Trilogy by Stephen Sommers;
- the Indiana Jones film series by Steven Spielberg;
- the comedic melodrama “Romance with a Stone” by Robert Zemeckis;
- full-length cartoon “Aladdin” by Walt Disney Pictures.
Interest on the part of European and American artists in oriental motives has not been lost today. Orientalism is still in demand among connoisseurs of beauty all over the world.