Such was the impact of his travels through Egypt and the Near East that Gérôme spent most of the rest of his career producing pieces inspired by them, as this oil on canvas exemplifies. Produced in 1895 and now in possession of a private collector, this painting serves as a demonstrative of much of what truly stuck to Gérôme from his trip, the architecture and the unabashed religiosity of the Muslim people.
The painting depicts two of the main architectural and religious features of the Caid Bey, now written Qaytbay, mosque, in Cairo: the mihrab and the minbar. The mihrab is an architectural feature present in most mosques, a semicircular niche in one of the walls that represent the direction of Mecca, facing which the faithful make their prayers. Also usually present is the minbar, a sort of pulpit from whence the imam delivers his sermons and generally speaks to the congregation.
Both features are not only a symbol of religiousness but also of authority. Gérôme depicts them at the center of his painting precisely because they are the center of action in the mosque, the point in the construction that serves as a reference for the faithful to undertake their religious practices. Further, if one were to travel now to see the same mosque, they would still find the very same features, which have survived since then.
Different from most of his paintings, here Gérôme took a less methodical approach, depicting the people and architecture with less realism than would be expected from him. That does not mean, of course, that details are left out, but instead that only the important features are developed. Still, there is a different, almost mystical feel to the painting, instilled by the slight blurriness in the artist’s brush stroke.
Sharing in that mood are the faithful represented by Gérôme, which could be divided into two categories. One group of men sits around the mihrab in meditation, perhaps engaging in theological discussion, while another group stands further from the wall and closer to the observer, engaged in prayer. The first group is composed of older, well-dressed men, while the praying group represents a variety of ages and social class.
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