PRAYING IN THE BLUE MOSQUE, CAIRO
signed and dated L. Deutsch Le Caire 1898 lower left
oil on panel
69 by 60.5cm., 27 by 23¾in.
We are grateful to Dr Emily M. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work which will be included in her critical catalogue of the artist's Egyptian and Orientalist works, currently in progress.
Sale: Christie's London, 3 November 1977, lot 115
The Fine Art Society, London (by 1978)
Kurt E. Schon, Ltd., New Orleans, Louisiana
Coral Petroleum, Inc., Texas (sale: Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 1985, lot 22)
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above
Paris, Salon des Champs-Élysées, 1898, no. 666
London, The Fine Art Society, Eastern Encounters, 1978, no. 24
London, Royal Academy of Art; Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Arts, The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, 1984, no. 20, p. 68, illustrated in the catalogue
James Harding, Artistes Pompiers: French Academic Art in the 19th Century, London, 1979, p. 78, illustrated ed. Coral Petroleum, A Near Eastern Adventure, Houston, n.d, n.p. illustrated
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes: Peintres voyageurs 1828-1908, Paris, 1983, p. 217, catalogued & illustrated
Semra Germaner and Zeynep Inankur, Orientalism and Turkey, Istanbul, 1989, p. 40, cited
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 43, discussed; p. 48, catalogued & illustrated
Jon Samuel Bassewitz, Orientalist Visual Discourse and National Acculturation in Nineteenth-Century France, vol. 1, Ph.D. diss, UMI, 1996, p. 98, described, fig. 2.20, illustrated
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes, peintres voyageurs, 1828-1908, Paris, 2001, p. 242, catalogued & illustrated
The setting of this painting is the chamber tomb of Emir Aqsunqur al-Nasiri in the Mosque of Aqsunqur, Cairo (fig. 1), also known as the 'Blue Mosque' on account of the impressive tiles that decorate the upper half of the chamber. The mosque was built in a Syrian architectural style in 1346-47 on the orders of Aqsunqur, the son-in-law of former sultan an-Nasir Muhammad. The blue, Iznik-style tiles visible in the present view, however, date to the mid-seventeenth century, when the mosque was restored by Ottoman official Ibrahim Agha al-Mustahfizan. The funerary complex within the mosque also includes the tombs of Aqsunqur’s brothers.
In contrast to Deutsch's ceremonial single-figure portraits of guards or worshippers, here the artist explores the theme of communality between five figures at prayer, affording the viewer a fascinating glimpse into the rituals of Muslim worship. The standing figure in blue on the right performs the initial invocation to God, or takhbir. The central figure in the foreground remains standing but is about to join the three seated figures who sit or kneel upright in reflection before the sujud, or prostration, the action in which the forehead is reverently placed to the ground.
Many of Deutsch’s contemporary artist travellers to Constantinople, Egypt and North Africa, including Jean-Leon Gérôme, shared his fascination with Muslim piety. They compared the personal nature of Muslim worship to the ceremony of Roman Catholicism in their home countries. The calm richness and geometrical order of the mosque interior served to accentuate the sense of pious concentration and communion with God. In the present work, only a palm frond on the tomb, a symbol of rest and Paradise, punctuates the otherwise empty space.