Snake Charmer

A naked boy, accompanied by an elderly musician playing the flute, “charms” a snake. Although Gérôme could have witnessed such a performance during his travels in Egypt, this detailed—almost photographic—image is an invention. A room in Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace inspired the tiled wall, inscribed with Koranic verses, while the stone floor resembles one in a Cairo mosque. The spectators represent a range of ethnicities, wearing a mishmash of clothing and weapons. Paintings of non-Western subjects, often with exotic or erotic undertones, were popular in nineteenth-century Europe and ensured Gérôme’s success.

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