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Art From Us MUSEUM GUIDE : Harvard Art Museums : Room 2120

Harvard Art Museums – Room 2120

Art From Us, Museum Guide #864

Art From Us presents a must-see Museum Guide daily, where we showcase specific artworks in specific museums – from across the globe. Today, for Art From Us, Museum Guide #864 the spotlight is on the Harvard Art Museums’ Room 2120. Showcasing a collection of The Lure of the East.

The three works in focus are :

  1. The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, William Holman Hunt, 1892-1899.
  2. Old Man with a White Turban, John Singer Sargent c. 1891.
  3. Still Life with Bric-a-Brac, William Michael Harnett, 1878.

The significance of the 3 works chosen for Art From Us, Museum Guide #863

As is best explained by the digital catalogue of the Harvard Art Museums :

“Nineteenth-century European fascination with the Middle East was spurred, in part, by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and by the rise of the French and British empires.”

The Lure of the East : Western Orientalism

Room 2120 at the Harvard Art Museums holds classic examples of Western orientalism. Orientalism refers to the tendency of Westerners to exoticise certain aspects of Eastern, and specifically Middle Eastern cultures.

Such art both gave rise to and was fuelled by certain stereotypes that Europe and America had about the far East. Such artistic tendencies were a result of the Eurocentric nature of the art historical canon. All aspects of the East were considered as ‘the other’, implying that they were in some ways unnatural or abnormal.

Eastern artistic practises were not considered as ‘fine art’, but instead were labelled as ‘handicrafts’. During and following the colonial era, Western artists often depicted Middle Eastern people and settings in clichĂ©d and over-simplified ways.

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