A respectful and moving observation of a man of high rank worshipping God, this recently rediscovered work stands out not just by virtue of its exceptional detail and palette, but on account of the frontal view, rare in the artist's work in which worshippers are predominantly seen from behind or in profile.
Gérôme's fascination with Muslim prayer began from the moment he set foot in Constantinople in 1852, and Egypt in 1856, and would become a central tenet in his oeuvre. A visit to the Mosque of Qaytbay in Cairo followed in 1868, and in Constantinople in 1875, a guest of the Sultan's painter, Abdullah Siriez, he visited no fewer than fifteen mosques, the New and Blue Mosques leaving an especially deep impression.
Here, a single figure stands silhouetted against a darkened yet architecturally distinctive backdrop, his silken robes crafted from the most vibrant confectionary of colours and his fur gown rendered in photographic detail. He raises his hands in submission to God, palms facing outward, as if to recite 'Allah-o-Akbar' ('God is Great'), in the pose of takhbir. His only company is a seated man, possibly a dervish, also in prayer, and an attendant drinking from an urn.
Gérôme reprises the bearded, fur-clad figure in a larger oil in the Najd collection (fig. 1). The colour palette of blue and turquoise may also well have been an inspiration to the Ottoman Orientalist painter Osman Hamdy Bey, who met Gérôme in Paris in the 1860s while studying in the studio of Gustave Boulanger, and was the first Turkish painter to adopt the French academic style of painting.
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