A Bronze of "Janissaire du Sultan Mahmoud II" by Emile Guillemin


A Fine French Bronze Depicting "Janissaire du Sultan Mahmoud II" by Emile Guillemin

Height: 33 3/4"

Signed and dated 'E le Guillemin/1879

The depiction of Middle Eastern themes has been employed by European artists for centuries, in works by Veronese, Rembrandt and Jean-Etienne Liotard among others. In nineteenth-century France, however, Orientalism took on a new dimension with the conquest and occupation of Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte (1798-1801), the French invasion of Algiers in 1830, and the Greek war for Independence (1821-32)

Generations of artists including Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Léon Gérôme traveled to North Africa, Greece and Turkey to observe the people and cultures of these regions. This fascination with Middle Eastern culture has been described by literary theorist Edward Said as a way of Europe examining itself in the mirror image of a related culture:"The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurrent images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, IDEA, personality, experience." (in: Orientalism, 1978) 

By the time Emile Guillemin was working as a young artist in the 1860s, Orientalism had become an established genre and almost a rite of passage for many French painters and sculptors. Guillemin's first sculpture with an Orientalist theme was a marble and bronze bust entitled Femme Mauresque, which was the start of a series of portrait busts of beautiful Middle Eastern women, including the presently offered Jeune Fille du Caire from 1880. By the 1870s, Guillemin had become one of the leading French sculptors working in the Orientalist genre, and his works included the abovementioned Middle Eastern beauties as well as horsemen, falconers, and warriors such as the Janissaire present here. Both the Jeune Fille du Caire and the Janissaire were exhibited at the Salon in 1880

He continued to exhibit until the Salon of 1899, at which time many of his works were purchased by the French government. The Janissaries were an elite corps of foot soldiers in the Ottoman army, composed of children captured throughout Europe and brought to Istanbul to be trained exclusively in the arts of war. Although they were slaves, they acquired enormous power, and from 1453 to 1623 all but five of the Sultan's Grand Viziers were Janissaries. The Sultan Mahmud II disbanded the Janissary corps in 1826, in a massacre of over 120,000 soldiers that was widely discussed in France at the time, and served to increase their appeal as an exotic and fascinating subject for sculpture