Intimate Outsiders

9780822339564: Hardback
Release Date: 10th December 2007

9780822339670: Paperback
Release Date: 10th December 2007

39 illustrations (incl. 32 in color)

Dimensions: 156 x 235

Number of Pages: 248

Series Objects/Histories

Duke University Press Books

Intimate Outsiders

The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature

Hardback / £88.00
Paperback / £22.99

Until now, the notion of a cross-cultural dialogue has not figured in the analysis of harem paintings, largely because the Western fantasy of the harem has been seen as the archetype for Western appropriation of the Orient. In Intimate Outsiders, the art historian Mary Roberts brings to light a body of harem imagery that was created through a dynamic process of cultural exchange. Roberts focuses on images produced by nineteenth-century European artists and writers who were granted access to harems in the urban centers of Istanbul and Cairo. As invited guests, these Europeans were “intimate outsiders” within the women’s quarters of elite Ottoman households. At the same time, elite Ottoman women were offered intimate access to European culture through their contact with these foreign travelers.

Roberts draws on a range of sources, including paintings, photographs, and travelogues discovered in archives in Britain, Turkey, Egypt, and Denmark. She rethinks the influential harem works of the realist painter John Frederick Lewis, a British artist living in Cairo during the 1840s, whose works were granted an authoritative status by his British public despite the actual limits of his insider knowledge. Unlike Lewis, British women were able to visit Ottoman harems, and from the mid-nineteenth century on they did so in droves. Writing about their experiences in published travelogues, they undermined the idea that harems were the subject only of male fantasies. The elite Ottoman women who orchestrated these visits often challenged their guests’ misapprehensions about harem life, and a number of them exercised power as patrons, commissioning portraits from European artists. Their roles as art patrons defy the Western idea of the harem woman as passive odalisque.

Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction: Intimate Outsiders 1
Part 1: John Frederick Lewis's Harem Paintings
Chapter One. The Languid Lotus-Eater 19
Chapter Two. "Mr. Lewis's Oriental paradises" 38
Part 2: British Women's Travelogues
Chapter Three. Pleasures in Detail 59
Chapter Four. Being Seen 80
Chapter Five. Sartorial Adventures and Satiric Narratives 92
Part 3: Harem Portraiture
Chapter Six. The Politics of Portraiture behind the Veil 109
Chapter Seven. Oriental Dreams 128
Epilogue 150
Notes 157
Selected Bibliography 177
Index 187

Mary Roberts is the John Schaeffer Associate Professor in British Art at the University of Sydney. She is a coeditor of Orientalism’s Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography, also published by Duke University Press.

“This is an outstanding example of a truly interdisciplinary study, integrating painting, photography, travel narrative, and especially harem portraiture. Mary Roberts describes encounters between women—both British travelers and the women of Istanbul and Cairo harems—in a refreshing, innovative analysis of the historical and imaginary workings of harem imagery as forms of cross-cultural exchanges and interactions.”—Julie F. Codell, editor of Imperial Co-Histories: National Identities and the British and Colonial Press

“Transforming debates about Orientalism, gender, and cultural and political agency, Mary Roberts writes with beguiling simplicity about complicated subjects, taking her readers through a potentially bewildering maze of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural material with a voice both authoritative and accessible.”—Reina Lewis, author of Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel, and the Ottoman Harem

“Roberts hits all the important marks, and hits them well: political agency; gender roles; the ways in which the harem both fostered and smothered particular types of female power; the ways in which the encounter between westerner and oriental provided the latter an occasion to orchestrate what it was that was on display. All in and of themselves important–and complicated–questions, ones that too often have been treated superficially or unimaginatively. Here we get them all, with care and subtlety–and in a package that makes for surprisingly enjoyable reading.”

K. E. Fleming
Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

“The intimacy Roberts describes in this excellent book is exciting because it provides an alternative to the distancing and empowering notion of orientalism advocated by Said. . . . The stories told in Intimate Outsiders form a significant contribution to the history of painting in nineteenth-century Istanbul, and to the history of international networks among women of privileged social classes. What else they might mean will depend on what, if anything, is able to succeed ‘orientalism’ as a tool for the political analysis of global culture.”

Nicholas Tromans, Art History