Snake Charmer

Painted with minute precision based in part on actual places—Istanbul’s Topkapı palace inspired the tiled wall, while the stone floor resembles that of the mosque of Amr in Cairo— this scene presents a European fantasy of life in the Islamic world. The assembled men, whose garments and weapons are derived from a combination of cultures, appear dazed as they watch a snake charmer. Their gaze upon the boy’s naked body calls attention to our own. This type of painting, referred to as Orientalist, reflected and shaped European prejudices about the world beyond its borders.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

French, 1824–1904

Snake Charmer

c. 1879

Oil on canvas

32 3/8 x 47 5/8 in. (82.2 x 121 cm) Frame: 41 × 56 × 4 1/4 in. (104.1 × 142.2 × 10.8 cm)

Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1942