The Saddle Bazaar, Cairoc. 1833 by
Gerome, Jean-Leon 1824-1904
The Saddle Bazaar, Cairo, exhibits concerns a typical of the Orientalist painter: exotic customs, physiognomy, dress, and architecture. From memories of his many journeys to Egypt and from studio memorabilia, Gerome has re-created a corner of Cairo. Attention is focused on a magnificent white horse with henna-dyed mane and tail, and on a transaction between a bashi-bazouk (Turkish merchant) and a Jewish merchant. With expressive gestures the men actively bargain over a bridle. The horse seems to listen with interest, a witty touch as is often found in Gerome's work. The anecdote is kept simple, so as not to detract from the picturesque accessories and costumes or from the carefully observed anatomy of the horse. Tack displayed before the stall and hanging from a rope help define the setting as Cairo's saddle bazaar.
The particular activity of this painting was undoubtedly a pretext for displaying the artist's masterful ability to represent various ethnographic types. The mild manner and elegant dress of the bashi-bazouk seem to belie the soldier's reputation for ferocity; only his weapons imply his violent profession. Yet the original viewers of this painting would have been fully aware of it, for the memory of the bashi-bazouks' savage suppression of the 1876 Bulgarian rebellion would have been still fresh.
The Turkish irregular, with his baggy trousers and turban, was one of Gerome's favorite characters. Because Egypt was still nominally part of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, Turkish soldiers were stationed there even in the 1880s, so the presence of the bashi-bazouk is not inconsistent with the Cairo setting. Nor is the Jewish merchants, identifiable by his earlocks and skullcap, out of place here, since Jews were reported at the time to be wealthy businessmen in Egypt. The almost face-to-face placement with the colorful and ornate dress of the soldier.
The moody handling of light in Saddle Bazaar-probably deriving from one of Gerome's favorite artists, Rembrandt-is a study in artful contrasts. The white horse stands forward strongly from the shadowy portico behind him, while multicolored tassels hanging from a paisley saddle-cloth hover delicately before the dark shop interior. Light also picks out the varied textures of the metal stirrup and dagger, embroidery, and fur. As usual in Gerome's work, the figures and these details are more highly finished than the background, which is more freely brushed.
Size (inches): 32 x 25 1/2
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: McKee Room