After the French expedition to Egypt in 1798, travelers tempted to discover this newly revealed land. European orientalist painters, when in Cairo, encountered an exotic culture. They documented Islamic architecture, as well as religious and social traditions and rituals. Their paintings became as tableaux vivants such as the oriental settings in universal fairs in the 19th century. These painters could be classified into two different groups. On the one hand, a group of painters focused on the documentation of Islamic monuments with their decorative and architectural features. Most of these European painters resided in Egypt for many years, and sometimes worked for the state. They compiled their paintings in volumes such as the collection of Egypt and Nubia by David Roberts, L’art arabe by Prisse d’Avennes, Architecture arabe, ou, monuments du Caire by Pascal Coste and The Illustrations of Cairo by Robert Hay. On the other hand, another group of painters represented religious and social traditions of the Muslims they encountered in Cairo. Local inhabitants became the focal point in the paintings of this group. They are embedded into an Islamic setting. This latter was used to convince the Western audience with their perception of the Oriental lifestyle, or sometimes was modified to fit the represented portraits. Some of the painters of this group had commonly a short stay in Egypt. Usually, their paintings were not compiled in volumes. They aimed to display their paintings for sale in le Salon de Paris and the Royal Academy; thus, they were exhibited separately. Among them are Jean-Léon Gérôme, John Frederick Lewis, Henri-Léopold Lévy and Le Comte du Nouy.
Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department
MA in Arabic Studies
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(2017).The interpretation of Islamic art and architecture of Cairo in European paintings in the 19th century [Master’s thesis, the American University in Cairo]. AUC Knowledge Fountain.
Sheta, Heba. The interpretation of Islamic art and architecture of Cairo in European paintings in the 19th century. 2017. American University in Cairo, Master's thesis. AUC Knowledge Fountain.