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Slave Market, Jean-Leon Gerome - Description of the Painting



Slave Market - Jean-Leon Gerome. Canvas, oil. 84.8 x 63.5 cm


The French painter and sculptor Jean-Leon Gerome preferred to work in an academic style. The main themes of his paintings were the life and being of antiquity and the East. His “Slave Market” painting was devoted to the theme of the slave trade in the Ottoman Empire.

In the Arab world, the slave trade practice was quite common. The master travelled to the Middle East several times, so he knew that although the slave trade in the Ottoman Empire was already banned, it still continued to take place.

The painting depicts the process of choosing a concubine in the Arab slave market. Slave traders are assessing a naked woman. She is beautiful, with harmony, purity and innocence visible in her whole image. However, the unceremonious behavior of the buyers and the owner of the slave puts a damper not only on the girl, but also on the audience: the girl’s owner opens her mouth a little with his dirty fingers so that the buyers can get convinced of the health of her teeth – even though her woman’s health and youth are obvious to anyone and requires no confirmation. The woman is extremely humiliated by being naked in front of the men, with her clothes thrown in a pitiful heap on the ground.

There are some other women seen in the background of the courtyard; they are still dressed, but also prepared for the sale.

The painting shows a savagery, cruelty and inhumanity. The picture is very realistic, as the master presented the events with no apparent sympathy for what is taking place, remaining indifferent to the fate of this unfortunate young woman; he is simply stating the fact.

The artistic merits of this picture include, among others, the skillful application of the contrast technique: one can see the men wrapped from head to toe and a naked, humiliated girl meekly accepting her fate.
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