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Image List | Glossary
Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant
French, 1845 - 1902
Favorite of the Emir
1879, oil on canvas, 142.24 x 220.98 cm
U.S. Naval Academy Museum
For nineteenth-century French painters and their viewers, the harem encapsulated the exoticism of the Islamic world. "Harem" refers to both the women's quarters and the women in a Muslim home. Europeans understood as a place of luxury and mystery the harem, where wives and concubines were hidden from the view of curious men. Like other orientalist painters, Constant included European women, rendered more alluring by their removal from their home setting.
Luxurious Islamic objects make this invented scene more believable. The male servant, who would have been a eunuch, plays a tanbur, a pear-shaped stringed instrument common in the Middle East during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The textile in the painting's center is modeled on a Mughal velvet embroidery that hung in the artist's studio.
The carpet in this painting can be seen in a photograph of the artist's studio.