The Minaretsc. 1891 by
Gerome, Jean-Leon 1824-1904
This late work is atypical of Gerome in its use of architecture as the main subject and in its panoramic view. Usually he emphasized human activityes in less expansive settings. Possible he was experimenting with new motifs to counteract the diminished market for genre painting.
From this rooftop view of Cairo, two minarets are the most prominent features in the middle ground. In the foreground, women relax or perform chores, airing cloth or setting out clay jars. At the horizon, a line of palm trees presumable marks the course of the Nile. A backdrop of blue sky throws the minarets into silhouette.
Although Gerome successfully suggests a hot day in picturesque Cairo, this is, as usual, a studio-constructed scene. It corresponds to no exact location, although the minarets themselves are based on two identifiable structures; the larger is part of the Mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun (built in 1284-1285), and the smaller is part of the Madrasah of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammed (built in 1295-1304). Judging from his study of these minarets in the Musee Garret, Vesoul, Gerome probably viewed the adjacent structures from the Bazaar of the Coppersmiths. He would not have seen the foreground rooftops, which has been inserted into this view. The adjustment from the street-level view of his study to the bird's-eye view of the painting is imperfectly achieved, since the perspectives of the rooftop and of the taller minaret are inconsistent.
Despite the invented composition of the painting, Gerome has been careful to re-create the mausoleum minaret faithfully. Its basic construction of three diminishing stages and its details, including the use of a Kufic inscription in the lower story, are true to the original Mameluke structure. Even the checkered walls of the lower stage, not visible today, were present in the nineteenth century as a relic of Turkish rule. The smaller minaret is an accurate rendition of the two upper stages of the monument, but the lower part is borrowed from some other monument, probably because Gerome's reference source did not show it.
While the artist has maintained his standard of accuracy in the religious architecture, other aspects of the painting show a decline in artistic rigor. Besides the faulty perspective, the angles of the shadows are inconsistent, and the figures are handled in a cursory manner, as are the domestic buildings in the foreground.
Size (inches): 40 x 28 5/8
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: Not on Display