PHOTOGRAPH OF AN OTTOMAN ODALISQUE IN HAREM DRESS
Place Published: Constantinople
Date Published: Circa 1890's
Book Id: 128
A late 19th century photograph measuring approximately 11 X 5 5/8 inches; the mount is approximately 14 X 11 inches. The photograph is Near Fine, a stunning portrait with excellent tones and fantastic detail. The mount shows traces of soiling and handling to the front and back, worn corners, and some small pieces of paper stuck along the upper edge. The previous owner wrote their personal information in ink on the lower left corner of the mount: "Return to J.L. Heaton, 1025 Bushwick Ave, Brooklyn" and has further written "A Turkish Odalisque in Harem Dress." An odalisque was a female slave in an Ottoman seraglio. They would serve as an assistant or apprentice to the wives and concubines, and might in time rise in status to become one of them. Most odalisques were part of the Imperial Harem, which is to say, the household of the Sultan. The likelihood that the woman in the portrait was part of the Imperial Harem is quite clear, given the people who took the photograph. The bottom right hand corner shows the signature of Sebah & Joaillier. Pascal Sebah (1823-1886) was a leading photographer in Constantinople, selling images of the city, ancient ruins in the surrounding area, portraits, and local people in traditional costumes to tourists. Sebah's son, Johannes (Jean) (1872-1947) then became involved in the business when he was only 16 years old. Jean grew up to become a talented photographer in his own right, but to profit from his father's fame, he signed his photographs J. Pascal Sebah. In 1888, Jean formed a partnership with a Frenchman, Policarpe Joaillier, and thereafter the studio was known as Sebah & Joaillier. The firm of Sebah & Joaillier was named the official photographer of the Sultan, and at his command took photographers all over his empire. Given the time period, the woman in the portrait would have been in the household of Abdul Hamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire - the last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power. His reign fell within a period of decline, during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. The odalisque is seen in contemporary costume, seated amidst a rug and cushions. The decorated walls, the hookah, and the smoke-filled room are all evocative of the Orientalist style. While both Princeton and the Library of Congress have large collections of Ottoman photographs from this time period, many specifically taken by this firm, the collections mainly highlight the modernization of the Empire, featuring images of architecture, technological advancements, harbors, and the military. Rare indeed are images of this nature, depicting a woman of this station in an environment which was forbidden to all but a few select individuals. (Wheatcroft, LOC, PUL).