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Orientalism in Art Essay

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“What was the process of ‘Orientalising’ according to Edward Said? Discuss the notion of ‘Otherness’ from both a European and ‘Eastern’ point of view using three examples of work for visual analysis.”

The Near East or the Orient was a “place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other.”[1] Edward Said describes the Orient as not an inert fact of nature but both Orient and Occident as man made.[2] The argument Said presents is that the Orient is an “idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West.”[3]
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The exotic and romanticised perception of the East can be seen in the painting of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres titled “Le Bain turc.” (Turkish Bath) The painting was an eroticised fantasy of how the artist perceived women of the Orient. The women’s body were drawn with some exaggeration to fit into these notions of Orientalism as sensuality was seen as acceptable to the exotic Orient. In line with Said’s argument of how the Orient was often drawn based on the imagination of the artist, Rome was the furthest limit of Ingres’s actual travel which would mean that he had never encountered the Orient before.[14] The work was inspired by the letters sent by Lady Montague who recounted her visit in the women’s bath in Istanbul. Taking this inspiration, Ingres paints dozens of nude Turkish women sitting or lying on sofas with exaggerated poses, chatting, dancing and singing. Nudity of the kind seen in the Parisian Salons would have been unacceptable in Victorian London however by the title and the subject matter being the Eastern world; it was allowed public access in the 1900s. A question arises whether if the title had not been “Turkish Bath” but rather “Paris Brothel” would the public approbation have been the same? The death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix is also a classic example of the characterization of the Orient. The work was inspired by a play in Byron and it portrays the eastern ruler’s brutal control over the destiny of the people. However Sardanapalus is a work of
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