In this painting from the middle years of Jean-Leon Gerome’s career, a doorkeeper in Tuareg costume guards the entrance to a shrine. He holds a sacred green banner inscribed with (most likely) Koranic texts. The silk flag glows against the decayed grey-brown stone and the brilliant red of the door hanging, which highlights the pure white of the man’s tunic.
Although this is the only known painting of a Tuareg by the artist, compositions with single figures, in other ethnic costumes, guarding portals are frequent in his work. As in his other Orientalist paintings, Gerome gives the impression of a scene actually observed. In fact, it is quite unlikely that he would have seen a Tuareg in the situation presented here, for the Tuaregs are nomads, not city-dwellers. Yet in fairness, they were little known in Europe at the time this work was painted.