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Orientalism as Told by The Truth About Reality as Revealed by

Jean-Léon Gérôme Henry Mercier

& reality
Orientalism as Told by The Truth About Reality as Revealed by
Jean-Léon Gérôme Henry Mercier

& reality
Gérôme: Turkish Bath or Moorish Bath, Mercier: Berber wedding ceremony in Morocco
Two Women.

1 Artist Overview and Origins of Work

2 Depictions of Everyday Life

3 Geographical and Architectural Representation

4 Results and Contributions Made to Society

5 Conclusions

With criticism from Edward Said’s Orientalism,

Linda Nochlin, Nezar AlSayyad, John House,
and commentary by Nadine and Laura Sobrado
Artist overview and origins of work
Biographies by Gerald M. Ackerman and Louis Brunot. Translated by Nadine Sobrado
“I think his love of Morocco was higher
He was very fond of the desert, and as you can see on some pictures,
would prefer to live in a more western way.”
-Nadine Sobrado (on Heny Mercier)

Gérôme: Self-Portrait Photograph of Henry Mercier in a bazaar in Marrakesh, Rabat or

Tangier. Mercier Spoke fluent French, Arabic and several dialects
of the indigenous Berber languages of Morocco and Tunisia.
9 Artist Overview and Origins of Work

than his military, social, colonial life.

surrounded with very Moroccan style furniture, while some other Colonials

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Henry Mercier:

Jean-Léon Gérôme was born in Vesoul and was Professor Henry Mercier was born in Tunisia
the first son of Pierre Gérôme, a goldsmith, and December 8, 1903.
his wife Claude Françoise Mélanie Vuillemot, a He passed with high honors, the challenging
merchant’s daughter. At school in Vesoul he had exams of military translator in Alger, Algeria at
much academic success from an early age, in his 18 years old, [which was an unusual young age at
final year receiving first prize in chemistry, an the time] and ranked first among all the ones who
honourable mention in physics and another prize passed those exams.
in oil painting, having commenced painting lessons In Morocco, in 1922, he again ranked first for
when aged 14 after five years of drawing classes. the second part of the military translator, which
His drawing master was Claude-Basile Cariage, a was a training/practice “in the field,” probably
strict task master in the academic methods who related to some intelligence work. Very soon,
is thought to have once worked in the atelier of his own studies on the local dialects and social
either J. B. Regnault or of Ingres. customs for those North African regions called the
His schooling complete, in 1840 at the age of attention of the high authorities of the “Arabic”
16, he set out for Paris with a letter of introduction experts department.
to Paul Delaroche who was then at the height of He was then mandated to perform classified mis-
his fame. Delaroche’s style, which he naturally sions that allowed and favored a deep relationship
communicated to his students, was a fusion of the with the different parts of the moroccan population.
academic Neo-classical school and the dramatic He always had a natural curiosity in social and
subject matter of the romantics in which the uni- political matters, and those missions allowed him to
versal themes of the former were replaced with the gain a huge knowledge of Islam in Morocco, and to
personal psychological studies typical of the latter, extend tremendously his linguistic understandings
resulting in, what might be termed, a historical of the local dialectes. He patiently gathered and
genre painting style. organized those in a form of note cards.
He was later to refer to his year in Rome as the At that point, he decided to form a new way
happiest and best time of his life.In Italy, he spent of teaching spoken Arabic that use methods and
much time studying the antiquities, which formed systems completely new at the time (no Berlioz at
the basis for many of his later motifs, and it was in the time, or Rosetta Stone). He used the phonetics
the Naples museum that he encountered the fa- to allow the new legion officers to get familiar and
mous gladiatoral armour from Pompeii that was to fluent with Arabic in a way that is simple, with
inspire his gladiatorial scenes. However, his stay in non complicated rules. For example, he presented
Italy was cut short by a bout of typhoid fever and the verbs (mostly irregular) in a way that made
his mother had to travel from Vesoul to nurse him. them all regular and easier to learn.
Returning to Paris in the autumn of 1844, he Soon he was recognized for his work and
entered the atelier of the famous Swiss painter studies and the Institute of High Moroccan
and teacher Charles Gleyre (1806-1874) who had Studies called him as a Maitre de Conferences
more or less taken over from Delaroche. He was (like a PhD Chair person) to teach and share his
a popular teacher and an excellent and erudite work. Also, at the same time, he had to run the
draughtsman, with a technique in oils considered department of History of the Muslim dialects and
to be one of the most secure at the time - this institutions at the School of High Rank Officers.
when oil paint was not yet supplied in tubes and a He was to chair the same department at l’Ecole
careful scientific mixing was required to avoid rapid d’Administration de Paris.
deterioration of the pigments over time. Amongst After several years, he decided to put an end to
his many later famous students, to whom he had his military carreer to dedicate his time to develop
obviously imparted his special techniques, were and improve his linguistics approach of the Arabic
Gérôme in his suit for the French Legion of Honor, The Work in Marble, Gérôme at work in his studio

Monet, Renoir, Bazille and Whistler. Besides the those of Gérôme, he also had an enthusiasm for ethnographique. At the end of 1861 Gérôme
usual drawing or painting from a model or cast, the Near East—an area which was ultimately to planned an eight month visit to Egypt and the
Gleyre also taught composition— a rare occur- become Gérôme’s destiny. Near East when he also visited Judea, Syria and
rence in an atelier. Remembering his own poverty When Delaroche returned to Paris from the Holy Places.
as a student, he never charged attendance fees at Rome, summoned to work on an important com- In January 1868, he set off upon a three-and-
his classes. mission, Gérôme left Gleyre’s studio to become a-half month excursion to the Middle East in the
Gleyre’s traditional empathy with Phidias and Ra- his assistant and he stayed for almost a year. company of 8 other friends, including the young
phael was at a time when the Realist movement Delaroche encouraged him to prepare paintings photographer Albert Goupil. By this time he had
was developing and his own compositions might for the Salon and he was soon commissioned to learned Arabic and was a seasoned traveller as
have seemed somewhat old-fashioned, however paint a reproduction for the Queen. For this he well as a lively and convivial companion.
his students reacted inventively, keeping their was given a studio in the Louvre. It was to be the Gérôme was at the height of his career:
master’s classical figures and settings with their first of a long series of official commissions. He regularly a guest of the Empress at the Imperial
idealized backgrounds, but instead of employing also worked on “The Cock Fight,” a large canvas Court at Compiègne; he was a professor at the
elements of the grand manner to paint historical, combining nude studies with animals, which he École; elected a member of the Imperial Institute
biblical or mythological subjects, they painted an- intended for the Salon of 1847. in 1865; promoted from a knight to an officer
tique genre scenes. His students became known Having got a taste for oriental travel after in the Legion of Honour in 1867; elected an
as the Pompeïstes or Neo-grecs and Gérôme— visiting Turkey in 1855 to make studies for a large honorary member of the British Royal Academy
doubtlessly due to the learned and sophisticated official commission, he was soon to visit Egypt in 1869; and awarded a decoration, the Grand
wit of his compositions together with their fresh- in preparation for the Salon of 1857 in which Order of the Red Eagle, Third Class, by the King
ness and accuracy—became known as the leader his first Egyptian genre paintings were shown. of Prussia. In the autumn of 1869 he was invited
of this small group. Gautier saw in them a true and fresh view of the to be among the distinguished group of French
However, in addition to Gleyre’s attention Near East. The variety of subjects and themes he artistic and literary élite to see the opening of the
to correct and accurate settings in his composi- presented were astonishing and this was to mark Suez Canal.
tions which seemed to either parallel or influence the start of his career as an Orientalist or a peintre During the latter part of his life Gérôme was
11 Artist Overview and Origins of Work

19th century map of Morocco, photograph of Mercier in Rabat, permit authorized by the French-Moroccan government ackowledging authoritative position in Morocco

language. He was eager to render the language if those volumes also had not brought more clarity languages have conserved the alphabetic clas-
in itself accessible, therefore promoting a better and convenience in this language, which they do. sification —perfectly arbitrary and illogical—it
communication between the 2 different com- As from that time, the Arabists, now had is without doubt because it became impossible
munities. He also had at heart to promote the the opportunity to use a very homogeneous en- to easily detect and from the first sight the root
Moroccan culture through the social, intellectual semble of different material (dictionaries, dialect from the word. In Arabic it is easier in most
and family life. studies, social and political gatherings etc.) to cases, but one must identify that the Semitic
-Louis Brunot understand better who the Moroccans were. root was not discovered until after a grammatical
Written: <<The lexicographic work don’t stripping of terms, and that the modifications and
French-Arabic Dictionary: have a point of endness.>> One will not make their evanescences of stroke ((hamza), w and y)
M.H. Mercier has given us, several years ago, grievance to Mr. Mercier to have omitted from complicate work, like a knot in a lace of a shoe
a language that has entered the hands of all this to there some vocabularies or rare expres- at the moment of taking off your shoes. Also,
Arabists, [those with interest in the Arab stud- sions or metaphors. Who will claim to collect one understands that when on coming to adopt
ies]. It has been said here all the good that one all the words that were used for more than a for Arabic noted in Latin characters the universal
has thought to think of this indispensable tool million of Morocans linguistically very diverse? alphabetic order that scatters all the pages from
of work. The essential is that the chosen words-and all an artificial dictionary the different words derive
In 1951, he published a new Arabic-French their ways that each can receive—to be from a from the same root fiah = he opened, under F,
dictionary, in response to the his first publication standard use. Now Mr. Mercier has given us fifty meftah =clef (music?) under M, llejtah = it was
(French-Arab), conceived according to the same thousand. This is to say that he greatly exceeded opened, under T, etc. This is what Mr. Mercier re-
principles/organization. the minimum that one could reclaim from one solved not without anticipating the reader which
Those two volumes offered a totally innova- book practice. The author attained their goal. the vowels could alterate to the completion of a
tive approach (at the time) by using latin charac- A <<daunting task>> is the classification of derivation or in certain positions from the word
ters in a non-latin writing. For the first time, the terms. The classifying by roots is evidently logical in the phrase, or even disappear.
French libraries had offered such material. and we gladly hope it the same for the European The truth is, that the long vowels are stable
This innovation would not have been enough language dictionaries. However, if these last and if Mr. Mercier has marked them, one way
a vehement opponent of the Impressionist move-
ment in painting. He caused a scandal over his
opposition to the Caillebotte bequest to the state
where he encouraged the Institute to write a letter
to the Minister of Public Instruction protesting the
exhibition of the large collection of Impressionist
works in the Luxembourg Gallery - to no avail
Collectives of Gérômes work as a
however - the collection was ultimately to become student and rising painter in France
the foundation of the Musée d’Orsay collection. before his journeys to the “Near”
He also organised a public demonstration in his and “Far East” where he utilizes tra-
ditional techniques but abandones
atelier and gave interviews to reporters. Similarly
mythological and subjects from
he objected to the Manet memorial exhibition at antiquity; begins his “Orientalist”
the École in 1884. genre of panting: L-R, and top to
bottom CLeopatra and Caesar, The
Cock Fight, The Death of Caesar, The
Virgin, Infant Jesus and St. John,
Phyrne, GrecianInterior, Le Gynece.
or another, the difficulty of classifying the words
holds accountable the vowels which have been
eased, from less the usages from a dictionary they
will have had the certainty what they didn’t have
to fear the possible modifications of these obliged
vowels. One will respond that the text (oral or
written) that supplied the given <<length of the
vowel>> before the consultation from the glos-
These are engravings that Mercier sary and that from the doing of uneasy disappear.
collected while he was in and around However, one will persist to feel that the length
cities like Rabat, Marrakesh and Tangier.
of the vowels to an importance large that must be
Although Mercier, like many of the com-
manders represent a part in the greater noted above all for the French of whom the lan-
French Colonialism during the 19th and guage is absolutely devoid of this discriminative
early 20th century, he became an inte- mark of numerous grammatical values in Arabic.
gral part of local Moroccan society with
his contributions to Moroccan both the
French and Moroccan cultures.
“He had been invited to several Berber wed

I think my grandfather was admired in the colonial
-Nadine Sobrado

The General Bonaparte in Cairo, Audience of the Siam Ambassadors at Fontainebleu

“The period of immense advance in the institutions and content

from 1815 to 1914, European

about 35%

15 Artist Overview and Origins of Work

dings, which usually they would not do that much.

circle for his knowledge, but considered a high rank officer, period.”

An old fortress, in Marrakesh or Rabat, A dynamic and beautifully composed letter sent to Mercier among many, many others during his career

of Orientalism coincides exactly with the period of unparalleled European expansion;

direct colonial dominion expanded from

of the earth’s surface to about 85% of it.
Every continent was affected, no more so than Africa and Asia.”
-Edward Said
Depictions of everyday life
With criticism and commentary from Edward Said’s Orientalism and Linda Nochlin
“They cannot represent themselves,
they must be represented.”
-Karl Marx, the Eighteenth Burmaire of Louis Bonaparte

During his time, Gérôme was considered to

be an ethnographer and that his paintings
were mere relections of his experiences in the
Islamic world. As Mercier’s photographs clearly
show true everyday life in Morocco, we have a
concrete foundation with which we can really
believe or disagree with Gérôme’s imagery.
“One absence in Gérôme’s painting’s is the
absence of history. Time stands still as it does
in all imagery qualified as “picturesque,” in-
cluding nineteenth-century representations of
pesants in France itself. Gérôme suggests that
this Oriental world is a world without change,
a world of timeless, atemporal customs and

The Black Poet Street Vendor in Rabat

19 Depictions of everyday life

Old Clothing Merchant in Cairo Vendors in Marrakesh

rituals, untouched by the historical processes supposedly there to denote the real directly, are that he wanted to present to the West.
that were “afflicting” or “improving” but, at actually there simply to signify its presence in Look at the differences in the imagery
any rate, drastically altering Western societies at the work as a whole. As Barthes points out, the depicted in the paintings and photographs. In
the time. Yet these were in fact years of violent major funtion of gratuitous, accurate details like Gérôme’s work, the details of the material items
and conspicuous change in the Near East as well, these is to announce “we are the real.” They dominate the picture and it is hard to imagine
changes affected primarily by Western power— are signifiers of the category of the real, there to what is really the message versus, blindly trust-
technological, military, economic, cultural—and give credibility to the “realness” of the work as a ing that they are historical accounts of Gérôme’s
specifically by the very French presence Gérôme whole, to authenticate the total visual field as a expereince. In Mercier’s photographs, the
so scrupulously avoids. simple, artless reflection—in this case, of a sup- importance lies in the people-the clear focus of
A ‘naturalist’ or ‘authenticist’ artist like posed Oriental reality” the image.
Gérôme tries to make us forget that his art is really (Nochlin 34-48). Gérôme’s work clearly supports Said’s words
art, both by concealing the evidence of his touch, But these paintings are not real. They are when he describes how the Orient is a kind of
and, at the same time, by insisting on a plethora based on a plethora of different romanticised exotic experiemental territory in which the impe-
of authenticating details, especially on what images that Gérôme collected from all over the rial powers are in awe as well as control:
might be called unnecessary ones...Such details, Islamic world and compiled into idealized images

Markos Botsaris The Sultan of Morroco, Sidi-Mohammed and his vizers

Arab and His Horse Gathering for assembly, Marrakesh or Rabat

“The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also

the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest
colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages,
its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most
recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has
helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting
image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of this Ori-
ent is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part
of European material civilization and culture. Orientalism
expresses and represents that part culturally and even
ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting insti-
tutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even
colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” (1-2).
“There emerged a complex Orient suitable for study in
the academy, for display in the museum, for reconstruction
in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in anthro-
pological, biological, linguistic, racial, and historical theses
about mankind and the universe, for instances of economic
and sociological theories of development, revolution cul-
Arabs Arguing Market in Rabat tural personality, national or religious character” (7-8).

Arabs Crossing the Desert A man and his Camels in Marrakesh

21 Depictions of everyday life

Leaving the Mosque Men and women gathering in Casablanca, Rabat or Marrakesh

Tapestry Merchant in Cairo A busy street in Marrakesh

Woman of Constantinople Berber women in the Atlas mountains

Geographic and architectural representation
With criticism from Edward Said’s Orientalism and Linda Nochlin

while it destroyed the
“His objective description surpassed

imagined Near East of the romantics which,

and usually dramatic, had been marvelously
The intense precision of Gérôme’s drawing and the affectionate care of his finish-oddly disdained by
modern critics as an academic exercise-revealed such a love of communicating the visual truth thtat his
reporting could not be doubted.”
-Gerald M. Ackerman

Les Champs de Repose, or literally, the place of rest Within a fortress’s courtyard, in Marrakesh or Rabat
25 Geographical and architectural representations

although exciting

A Muezzin Calling From the Top of a Minaret Marrakesh

The Faithful to Prayer, Marrakesh

This section refers to geography as a literal as elements integrated and contextual- “civilization” he had studied; rarely were Ori-
entity as well as a psychological and utilitar- ized with the native people or vice versa, as entalists interested in anything except proving
ian one. Gérôme idealizes Islamic architecture depicted in Mercier’s real documentation of the validity of these musty “truths” by apply-
and geography as an exotic commodity which Moroccan culture. ing them, without great success, to uncompre-
is on one hand, emotionally distant fom the “To speak of scholarly specialization as a hending, hence degenerate, natives.
West, and yet so accesible through the eyes of geographical “field” is, in the case of Oriental- Finally, the very power and scope of
the naïve Western viewer, through Gérôme’s ism, fairly revealing since no one is likely to Orientalism produced not only a fair amount
presentation. imagine a field symmetrical to it called Oc- of exact positive knowledge about the Orient
On the other hand, geography refers to the cidentalism. Already the special, perhaps even but also a kind of second-order-knowledge-
psychological notion of posession that Europe- eccentric attitude of Orientalism becomes lurking in such places as the “Oriental” tale,
ans dominated in the 17th century. In a sense, apparent (50). the mythology of the mysterious East, notions
Gérôme’s paintings illustrated what “belonged” When a learned Orientalist traveled in the of Asian inscrutability-with a life of its own,
to Europe in a way. When I say “utilitarian” this country of his specialization, it was always what V.G. Kiernan has aptly called “Europe’s
is meant to refer to architecture and geography with unshakable abstract maxims about the collective day-dream of the Orient (52).

The Prayer (in Cairo) An interior in Rabat

“As for his translation of the Koran,
any non-Muslim at
the time, and it is
only because of his
from the circle of highly educated Arabs
to several Muslim friends and they were
very well their religion [which was the
The First Kiss of Light, Outskirts of Rabat, Oasis, Marrakesh center, Top: The Harem’s Excursion, Bottom: Outskirts of Rabat

But if we agree that all things in history, like propriation of one culture by another, apparently enhancement of the “authority” at home. “Local
history itself, are made by men, then we will stronger one. For with Napoleon’s occupation of interests” are Orientlalist special interests, the
appreciate how possible it is for many objects or Egypt processes were set in motion between East “central authority” is the general interest of the
places or times to be assigned roles and given and West that still dominate our contemporary imperial society as a whole (42-44).
meanings that acquire objective validity only after cultural and political perspectives. And the Napo- When one uses categories like Oriental and
the assignments are made. This is especially true leonic expedition, with its great collective monu- Western as both the starting and the end points of
of relatively uncommon things, like foreigners, ment of erudition, the Desciption de l’Egypte, analysis, research, public policy, the result is usually
mutants, or “abnormal” behavior. provided a scene or setting for Orientalism, since to polarize the distinction- the Oriental becomes
It is perfectly possible to argue that some dis- Egypt and subsequently the other Islamic lands more Oriental, the Westerner more Western-and
tinctive objects are made by mind, and that these were viewed as the live province, the laboratory, limit the human encounter between different cul-
objects, while appearing to exist objectively, have the theater of effective Western knowledge about ture, traditions, and societies (45).
only a fictional reality (54). the Orient. The Orient was therefore subdivided into
The keynote of the relationship was set for The specialist does the immediate translation realms previously known, visited, conquered,
the Near East and Europe by the Napoleonic inva- of mere Oriental matter into useful substance: the by Herodotus and Alexander as well as their
sion of Egypt in 1798, an invasion which was in Oriental becomes, for example, a subject race, epigones, and those realms not previously
many ways the very model of a truly scientific ap- an example of an “Oriental” mentality, all for the known, visited, conquered. Christianity com-
27 Geographical and architectural representations

this was NEVER authorized to

that he was allowed to put his nose into it. On a side note, I showed his translation
shocked to see 1) that he had been allowed and 2) that his translation was honoring
best compliment he could receive].”

pleted the setting up of main intra-Oriental with a word or phrase, which then is considered ei- to the people of Alexandria. Napoleon tried every-
spheres: there was a Near Orient and a Far Ori- ther to have acquired, or more simply to be, reality. where to prove that he was fighting for Islam; ev-
ent, a familiar Orient, which Rene Grousset calls Rhetorically speaking, Orientalism is abso- erything he said was translated into Koranic Arabic,
“l’empire du Levant,” and a novel Orient (58). lutely anatomical and enumerative: to use its just as the French army was urged by its command
As a discipline representing institutionalized vocabulary is to engage in the particularizing always to remember the Islamic sensibility.
Western knowledge of the Orient, Orientalism and dividing of things Oriental into manageable Compare, in this regard, Napoleon’s tactics in
thus comes to exert a three-way force, on the parts. Psychologically, Orientalism is a form of Egypt with the tactics of the Requerimiento, a docu-
Orient, on the Orientalist, and on the Western paranoia, knowledge of another kind, say from ment drawn up in 1513-in Spanish-by the Spaniards
“consumer” of Orientalism (67). ordinary historical knowledge. These area few of to be read aloud to the Indians: “We shall take you
Philosophically then, the kind of language, the results, I think, of imaginative geography and and your wives and your children, and shall make
thought and vision that I have been calling Orien- of the dramatic boundaries it draws (72). slaves of them, and as such sell and dispose of them
talism very generally is a form of radical realism; From the first moment that the Armee as their Highnesses [the King and Queen of Spain]
anyone employing Orientalism, which is the habit d’Egypt appeared on the Egyptian horizon, may command; and we shall take away your goods,
for dealing with questions, objects, qualities, and every effort was made to convince the Muslims and shall do you all the mischief and damage that
regions deemed Oriental, will designate, name, that “nous sommes les vrais musulmans,” as we can, as to vassals who do not obey, etc.”] (82).
point to, fix what he is talking or thinking about Bonaparte’s proclamation of July 2, 1798, put it Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier:
“The military failure of Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt did not also destroy the fertility of its over-
all projection for Egypt or the rest of the Orient. Quite literally,

the occupation gave birth to the entire

as interpreted from within the universe of discourse founded by Napoleon in Egypt, whose agencies
of domination and dissemination included the Institut and the Description.”

-Edward Said

Napoleon and his General Staff

29 Geographical and architectural representations

modern experience of the Orient

Kairoen Berber Tents

Napoleon wanted to offer a useful European Orient. Quite literally, the occupation gave birth ent, the canal was worth the effort...There was
example to the Orient, and finally also to make to the entire modern experience of the Orient as only “our” world, “one” world bound together
the inhabitants’ lives more pleasant, as well as interpreted from within the universe of discourse because the Suez Canal had frustrated those last
to procure for them all the advantages of a per- founded by Napoleon in Egypt, whose agencies provincials who still believed in the difference
fected civilization. None of this would be possible of domination and dissemination included the between worlds (90-92).
without a continuous application to the project Institut and the Description (87). There was only “our” world, “one” world
of the arts and sciences (85). On the Suez Canal: bound together because of the Suez Canal had
The military failure of Napoleon’s occupation Despite its immemorial pedigree of failures, its frustrated those last provincials who still believed
of Egypt did not also destroy the fertility of its outrageous cost, its astounding ambitions for in the difference between worlds (92).
over-all projection for Egypt or the rest of the altering the way Europe would handle the Ori-
Results and contributions made to society
With criticism from Edward Said’s Orientalism and work by Nezar AlSayyad and John House

Orientalism is a form of paranoia

knowledge of another kind, say from ordinary historical knowledge. These are a few of of the results,
I think, of imaginative geography and the dramatic boundaries it draws”

-Edward Said

Bathing Scene Mercier (left), an important Moroccan official and commander

drinking tea. This is considered an unusually wonderful situation

“as never a white would

ask a Moroccan to sit among
them this way. Tea was part of a huge sign of hospitality,

tolerance and respect. “

-Nadine Sobrado
33 Results and contributions made to society

News Flyer advertising for the new Euro-African edition of Mercier’s Koran, booklet-catalogue cover for Mercier’s edition of the Koran

As was this wave of Orientalism in Europe, sidered a high rank officer, period. As for my because of his acceptance from the circle
Mercier was one of the few that was not grandfather, I think his love of Morocco was of highly educated Arabs that he was al-
content with the status quo. Not only did he higher than his military/social colonial life. lowed to put his nose into it. on a side note,
help break misconceptions about the colo- He was very fond of the desert, and as you I showed his translation to several Muslim
nized cultures, he had a deep appreciation can see on some pictures, surrounded with friends and they were shocked to see 1) that
for Moroccan culture. He was so motivated very Moroccan style furniture, while some he had been allowed and 2) that his transla-
to help the situation between France and other Colonials would prefer to live in a more tion was honoring very well their religion
Morocco and to work with the Arabs, not western way.” [which was the best compliment he could
against them. As his granddaughter Nadine On commenting about Mercier’s translat- receive].”
Sobrado recalled: ing the Koran from Arabic to French she A published description of Merciers’ work
“My grandfather was admired in the said that “This was NEVER authorized to states: This work complies with the general
colonial circle for his knowledge, but con- any non-Muslim at the time, and it is only desire to have at hand an orderly Koran

Moorish Bath, before and after: modifications or “Westernization” of images to make them more acceptable
“Realist painters wanted to paint people and nature as
objective study reealed to them without aesthetic manip-
ulation. This objectivity was borrowed from contempo- characters and
rary scientific theories on how one should handle

From top: The Snake Charmer, Bottom, Black Bashi Bazouk (an “unusual Turkish soldier,” The Black Servant Girl, The Teaser of the Narghile or the Pipelighter
35 Results and contributions made to society

setting in novels” -Edward Said

French-Arabic Braille Guide, developed and executed by Mercier

reduced to the essential verses which alone should more-so, his imagination: undertook a more complicated task of qualifying
be known in the sacred book of Islam. So far, “What is largely omitted from Orientalist those images after a closer examination of the
research into any precise dogmatic, moral or legal paintings is the European presence, with the artists’ methods and backgrounds revealed that
points was found to be tedious because the verses process of conquest and colonisation, and also the representations of street life depicted were
dealing with the question are dispersed throughout the particularities of poverty and suffering; the innacurate, perhaps including images or symbols
countless suras. This waste of time is avoided in favoured inclusions — the fabric of the western imported from other locations both inside and out-
Henry Mercier’s new presentation where carefully image of the Orient — are the idleness, sensuality, side of Cairo alltogether (in reference to Gérôme’s
selected verses to avoid repetitions are grouped and cruelty of the Orientals, their religious customs Snake Charmer). Our task in these cases entailed
according to each subject in the same chapter.” and the picturesqueness of their world (John “cleaning up” the images we decided to use by
Mercier also introduced braille for Arabic. House 307). erasing what we could prove were gross inaccura-
It should be obvious that Mercier’s contribu- So what art historians and researchers are left cies, delibarate misrepresenations or loose artistic
tions do not reflect French imperialism, but rather with minus the idealized figures in the paintings, licenses” (98).
the improved communicative connections that are is the architecture which can actually be applied Once all these inaccuracies were removed,
now possible between two very different cultures. [indirectly] to the knowledge of Western eyes. an image almost identical to the existing mosque
What Gérôme has accomplished, on the other AlSayyad and his team of technicians worked of Aqa Sunqur-or the blue mosque of Cairo-was
hand, is portfolio exemplifying top craftsmanship to build a virtual reconstruction of Cairo with revealed. The adjusted image became useful as a
and rendering of both actual subject-matter and the help of images from Orientlist paintings:We historic document.
The Dance of Almeh Moroccan and French guards, Rabat
39 Conclusion

One of the most important lessons that I have learned either side. Thus, subjectively, his work is breathtak-
at RISD is that art is most beautiful when its true func- ingly beautiful but upon knowledge of its functional-
tionality is apparent to the viewer: to be able to look ity, his work is disgusting.
at a thing objectively and subjectively, and still say Henry Mercier was an exception to the Oriental-
that it is beautiful, is the indication that the artist has ist/Colonialist movement. He truly used it as an op-
succeeded in communicating his or her message. portunity not to enforce power, but to enforce deep
I believe that the two artists presented in this communication with foreign culture-not the kind of
book not only differ in their purposes and messages openness to expect from such a powerful, dominating
through their art, but they also differ in their method nation at the time.
of communication which utimately, can be equated His visual documentation in this short presenta-
with their level of success. tion is only but a small representation of the amount
Despite Gérôme’s negative criticism over the cen- of time and dedication that he put towards the con-
tury, it is no doubt that he was the master painter of tributions for Moroccan society. You cannot doubt the
Orientalism. He was the by-product of his time-period sincerity in his photographs. The strong relationships
and so it is not surprising that his work is as innacurate that Mercier developed with the people is something
as it is idealistic. that no person can hide or “imagine” through realistic
The method by which he communicated was renderings/photography or what have you.
through photo-realistic rendering, while picking and Upon my commenting that Mercier’s photog-
choosing the marketable aspects of Islamic and Arab raphy is utterly beautiful, his granddaughter Nadine
culture to sell to the naïve viewers in Europe and replied ”but his work is interesting.” And not only is it
America. Art historians and critics cannot understand interesting, but its function is to show one man’s love,
the reasoning as to why Gérôme would morally kindness, respect and equality that he had for fellow
speaking do such a thing. members of a culture that was considered inferior
His paintings were created not for the best inter- during his career. And this makes his work subjectively
est of either “Occidental” or “Oriental” culture; and funcionally beautiful.
his work hurts both worlds because the opposing Special thanks go to Nadine Sobrado, Nadine
elements he uses togther cause friction and fog any and Irene Mercier for exposing me to Mr. Mercier’s
clear message which can be racially interpreted for historic, cultural patrimony.
Works Cited:

Jean-Léon Gérôme Biography;

Ackerman, Gerald M. The life and work of
Jean-Léon Gérôme : with a catalogue raisonné
/ Gerald M. Ackerman. London;: Published for
Sotheby’s Publications by P. Wilson Publishers ;
New York, NY : Sotheby’s Publications, Harper
and Row, 1986

Henry Mercier French Dictionary Review; Louis


AlSayyad, Nezar. Virtual Cairo: An Urban

Historian’s View of Computer Simulation.
Léonardo, Vol. 32, No. 2, 1999. MIT Press.

House, John. The Orientalists. London, Royal

Academy. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126,
No. 974 (May 1984. The Burlington Magazine
Publications, Ltd.

Nochlin, Linda. The Politics of Vision, Essays

on Nineteenth-Century Art and
Society. Harper & Row, Publishers, New York.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York :

Vintage Books, c1994

This book was designed and printed by

Laura Sobrado in Krzysztof Lenk’s Type III
Class at Rhode Island School of Design
in April 2009.

The headlines and quotations are set in Goudy

Old Style and the body text in Syntax LT Std.