Girardet depicts the fanfare surrounding a Berber or Touareg wedding. In the centre, five bridesmaids accompanied by musicians escort the ceremonial camel-borne hawdaj
, or palanquin, bearing the bride to the arena outside the village to watch a celebratory fantasia, a traditional exhibition of horsemanship in the Maghreb.
Fellow artist Frederick Arthur Bridgman, who had also travelled to Biskra in the same years, described a local wedding as follows: 'The beating of drums, tam-tams, and tambourines, with the strident voices chanting in chorus in a high and minor key, the firing of guns and pistols, and the penetrating notes of the clarionets, announced the departure of the bride from her house. Superb trappings and housings completely concealed her, and the tall camel which bore her was almost hidden from sight by long fringes and enormous tassels slung across the animal's chest and dangling against its legs. Friends of the bride and groom pranced on horseback about the palanquin and round the gayly caparisoned horse of the young husband, playing the "fantasia", throwing their slender guns in the air and catching them, loading and firing again and again, leaving in their train a strong smell of powder'. (Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Winters in Algeria
, New York, 1890, pp. 236-37)
Girardet hailed from an artistic Swiss family, and even before his teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme encouraged him to visit North Africa he had long been inspired to travel by his uncles Karl and Edouard, who had journeyed to, and painted, Egypt; and from his father Paul, who had engraved episodes of the colonial war in Algeria after Horace Vernet. In 1874, Girardet embarked for Morocco, then travelled to Tunisia and Algeria, for which he developed a particular fondness. He spent subsequent visits in Algiers and Boghari, but above all in El Kantara, Bou-Saâda, and Biskra in the foothills of the Saharan Atlas, painting scenes of daily life of which the present work is a prime example.