Painted upon Bauernfeind's return to Munich after his third and final sojourn in Palestine (1888-89), this monumental painting marks the culmination of the artist's developing thoughts on - and ambitions for - his Jaffa canvases. Here, a group of dervishes and sufis leads a religious procession, possibly of pilgrims embarking on the annual Hajj to Mecca. Bauernfeind would have been quite familiar with the site of this important yearly event given his frequent visits to Damascus, the main hub and gathering point for the Syrian Hajj route south into Arabia. With flags flying, including the Solomonic seal, the crowd advances through a narrow Jaffa street on market day as onlookers, greengrocers, as well as a camel and a donkey, make way for it. In the far distance on the right, the Mediterranean Sea gleams in the evening light.
Bauernfeind took up residency in Jaffa for much of 1884-87, first in the city's German colony at the hotel belonging to Ernst Hardegg, son of the Temple Society's founder, and later in a rented house in town. Armed with his sketchbook and Detektiv camera - a miniature spy camera that hid in his waistcoat with the lens peeping through a buttonhole - he could be seen exploring the city and recording his impressions (fig. 1). He would then work these up into finished paintings, either in Jaffa itself or in his studio during intervals in Germany. These works were destined for his dealer Arthur Sulley in London or for private patrons. Bauernfeind often interrupted his tours due to financial issues, challenging living and working conditions, and frequent bouts of illness, meaning that his large-scale works of Palestine, like the present example, are few in number. Nevertheless, Bauernfeind remained determined. In an 1885 letter to his mother and sister he wrote: ‘Life here is at best an endless string of privations; yet I must admit that this rabble amongst whom I live here never fail to exert their peculiar fascination over me each time I step out into the street and catch sight of the procession of characters marching past.’
As a trained architect, Bauernfeind took particular delight and interest in the streets, buildings, mosques and other city structures he visited in Palestine. With their rich and complex histories, these structures offered up myriad layers of architectural styles and landmarks. Jaffa, among the most ancient trading ports in the Levant, held a particular fascination, and the present view in Procession in Jaffa is something of a tour de force in this respect. This work represents the architectural accretions of seven hundred years of settlement from twelfth-century Christian gates and fortifications to Mamluk and Ottoman additions. Here, typical Ottoman houses with overhanging mashrabiya windows abut arches and fortifications built by the Crusaders. In the distance on the right, overlooking the harbour, is the minaret of the al-Bahr Mosque, or Sea Mosque, the oldest extant mosque in Jaffa. No detail escapes Bauernfeind's eye, down to the Hamsa or Khamsa handprint on the wall of the house on the left, a sign of protection that also represents blessings, power and strength.
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