Among Ludwig Deutsch's most ambitious multi-figural compositions, and one of very few works in which children take centre-stage, the present work presents an original and informal vignette of daily life in Cairo. With touching observation, Deutsch presents the figures in various forms of study, from the young boys intently concentrating on their texts, to the older pupils behind them being questioned by their teacher, to the young men in front of the pillar watched over by a man depicted in an statuesque pose typical of the artist's academic mastery. Painted in the year of the artist's second known trip to Cairo, The Koranic School bears comparison with The Courtyard of Al-Azhar University, also of 1890 and shown at the Paris Salon, a larger work conveying the hustle and bustle of the site rather than the present contemplative interior (fig. 1).
One of the most revered Orientalists of the late nineteenth century, Ludwig Deutsch devoted himself almost exclusively to Cairene subjects from the early 1880s onwards. Deutsch masterfully captured everyday life on the streets of Cairo, favouring subjects from cafés, markets and mosques. An interest in Cairene architecture, religious ceremonies, Oriental furniture and local dress characterises the artist's oeuvre. Always described with breath-taking virtuosity, these elements form exquisitely detailed backdrops for the figures depicted.