Lesson 21: Orientalism in Art

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


I’d like to dedicate a special paragraph to the orientalists, mainly because they represent a distinct group of painters who conveyed their fascination for the exotic Orient on their canvases. Additionally, I personally find these paintings intriguing and captivating. Through their efforts, we in the West became familiar with other civilizations in the East, as it was then referred to. However, this does not imply that they had an accurate perception of the true nature of these civilizations. Just as it’s challenging for us to objectively assess our own civilization today due to our proximity, the same was true for the orientalists in their era. We are discussing the period from around 1798-1900, starting from Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign up to the 20th century – the era when we talk about orientalism in art. Napoleon didn’t just bring soldiers on his campaign; he also brought scientists and artists.

Napoleon met zijn generale staf in Egypte, uit 1863 van de kunstschilder Jean-Léon Gérome. Locatie: Dit schilderij hangt in het Hermitage Museum in Sint Petersburg in Rusland.
Image: “Napoleon with His General Staff in Egypt,” painted in 1863 by the artist Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904).
Location: This painting is on display in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Hermitage is housed in the Winter Palace, a palace in St. Petersburg situated on the banks of the Neva River.

Searching for Ancient Civilizations

Following Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, there was a surge of interest in ancient Egypt within Europe. The era was even termed as ‘Egyptomania’. Artists subsequently traveled to other cities with ancient civilizations, including the ruins of ancient Carthage and the former Heliopolis in the Lebanese Bekal Valley, also known as the Baalbek Valley after the city of the same name.

The Cradle of Christianity

However, there was another reason for the interest of painters, architects, and sculptors in these ancient civilizations. They aimed to depict Biblical history in their art more realistically. They believed that to do so, they needed to visit these regions in person. After all, the cradle of Christianity was located in the Middle East. To accurately portray Biblical history on canvas, they felt the need to observe firsthand how the people in these regions lived.

The World of Islam

Yet, during their travels, they encountered not only the Christian world but were also immediately captivated by the world of Islam. This fascination is reflected in the many everyday scenes depicted in the paintings of the orientalists. Art dealerships began to showcase portraits of nomads, market scenes, traditional celebrations and festivals, women in harems, and depictions of Eastern cities and remarkable landmarks.

Odalisques, van de Franse orientalis Henri Adrien Tanoux uit 1905Image: “Odalisques,” painted in 1905 by the French artist Adrien-Henri Tanoux. An odalisque was a concubine or a slave in the harem of the Turkish sultan. These paintings were very popular at the beginning of the 20th century.
Location: The painting was auctioned in the summer of 2023 by Sotheby’s auction house in London. It is now owned by a private collector.

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