Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Painting An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt by Jean-Leon Gerome

An Arab Caravan Outside a Fortified Town-1864
The painting An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt in 1864 by Jean-Leon brings to the forefront a time just before the advent of the modern state in Africa. It is amazing to see life as it was only 150 years ago from the perspective of an Egyptian caravan and local inhabitants. Such caravans have a historical place in the cultural identifications of the Arab and African peoples. 

The French artist Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904) engaged in a number of great works that were seen as Academicism. His works touched on Orientalism, Greek Mythology, portraits, and sculptures. He was an academic who not only painted for a living but also taught other students to a refined degree. He was one of three professors appointed to Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The skill and ability by which he fostered also made its way into a number of studies where people of painting, writing, and other art backgrounds gathered for lively conversation and socialization.

Born in Vesoul, Haute-SaƓne he moved to Paris to study under Paul Delaroche. From that time he traveled to a great many locations and focused on natural orientated works. He spent time in Turkey, the Middle East, Egypt, Rome, Italy, and many other locations. He even earned a commission under Napoleon III to paint the canvas work Age of Augustus. Skill orientation he had wider levels of experience and abilities than many of his contemporaries. His marriage to Marie Goupil, a daughter of an international arts dealer, furthered his career, wealth and fame.

The Arab caravan has a unique place in the history of commerce and trade. People brought their products from city to city in an effort to barter and trade. Many of these caravans included armed tribesman as the road could be extremely dangerous. A typically caravan may have 100 men up to a 1000 members of which the majority perish under a dangerous journey full of calamity. Such caravans carried everything including spices, silk, ivory, crops and slaves. 

The great Arabic states and culture were built off of these trade routes. Those cities and rulers that could dominate the trade routes consolidated their power from such commerce. As centers of commerce, such cities built walls for protection from outside invading forces. Even during Ottoman oversight such cities became what is known as the city-state. These city-states often had their own ethnic and cultural identity that separated them from other states in the area. 

The peak of trade started in the 8th century and began to slow in the 16th century. Yet the method continued into modern times. With the French invasion of Sahel around 1890 water routes and growing wealthy European destinations became more important as a shipping method. Finally, the construction of railroads and independent states with national boarders in the 1960’s ended such caravans except in small pockets where limited trading still exists.

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