Pygmalion and seraglios
There is no escaping Jean-Léon Gérôme’s love of the harem as subject matter for his paintings.
Called the seraglio, serail, or zenana in some cultures; harems are a specialized form of women’s quarters.
Considered a sacred inviolable place, harems house a man’s concubines (and wives) away from the gaze and desires of other men.
As I said before, I will always be astounded at Jean-Léon’s continual ability to access such private areas for his work.
It must be a great honor to be invited for a glimpse of an empty harem bath, let alone to be allowed to stay and paint.
For men, having a harem, or some sort of facsimile, is a relatively common fantasy.
It’s also one of those things that are easier said than done.
Even if it were possible to build a harem in this modern day; it would be a rare man with the money, power, and appetites necessary to keep it in place.
Still, it’s another nice fantasy. And, it’s one I have to believe I share with Jean-Léon.
statues come to life
Here was an individual who worked as both a painter and a sculptor. In combining his love for both mediums, Gérôme returned time and time again to a classic tale from mythology.
It’s a story with some serious legs.
Dating back to Greek mythology, told most famously in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it’s been portrayed in a variety of forms.
For instance, Disney’s Pinocchio is little more than a bowdlerized and embellished retelling of Pygmalion.
Disney couldn’t have a sculptor feeling romantic love for his work in a G-rated movie for kids. (We were thankfully spared that kind of romance for an inanimate object until Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin.)
So, Pygmalion morphed into Mister Geppetto. Romantic love for a statue was switched off in favor of fatherly love for a puppet.
It’s a sweet story either way. And it’s a story that clearly fascinated Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Was he fascinated to the point of fetishizing statues? Perhaps his dream was a harem of statues coming to life?
Those questions will likely remain forever unanswered.
narghiles and hookahs oh my
Jean-Léon was a 19th-century man with more than enough fetishes to flesh out a FetLife profile.
With as many seeming fetish interests as I’ve already covered, I can see one more potential kinky interest for our friend, Jean-Léon Gérôme.
It certainly could be argued, from the frequent appearance of hookahs in his paintings, that the renowned French artist may have had a touch of a smoking fetish.
Granted, narghiles are relatively common in a good number of Orientalist paintings.
Certainly, the appearance of a hookah immediately identifies a painting as portraying a scene from the East.
Perhaps Gérôme was intrigued by the culture surrounding drugs like hashish?
Perhaps he was enthralled with seeing beautiful harem ladies smoking?
I’ll never know for sure. But, it’s just one more potential kink to add to Jean-Léon’s list.