Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)
The Snake Charmer, c. 1879
Oil on canvas, 32 3/8 x 47 5/8 in. (82.2 x 121 cm)
Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1942
Despite the impression of immediacy conveyed by Gérôme's meticulous depiction of architectural details and costumes, this painting was actually executed in the studio and incorporates historically inaccurate elements. The tile work is copied from panels in the Ottoman Topkapi Palace, in Istanbul, but the practice of snake charming is Egyptian. In addition, the floor likely mirrors that of a mosque, although such a performance would not have been welcome in a sacred space. Indeed, it seems that the painting's true subject is not a particular event but the idea of the exotic. The work hung for a time in Sterling Clark's childhood home, and his fond memories of it led him to buy it when it reappeared on the market in 1942.
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