American Egyptomania Search

The Slave Market

Earl Shinn [Edward Strahan], Gerome: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gerome in One Hundred Photgravures (New York: Samuel L. Hall, 1881)

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What sum will ye open the bidding for her? And one of the merchants answered 'With four thousand and five hundred pieces of gold.'" And the commentator explains that we are not to understand that such a slave as Encese Jelees was exposed to the public gaze in a market to which all persons indiscriminately were admitted (for this would be at variance with Eastern usages); but in a special mart, to which none were allowed access but persons of wealth, who expressed a desire to purchase." Slaves and slave-girls are still sold in the East; but, with the gradual and silent encroachment of European ideas, scenes such as M. Gerome has here portrayed are now more rare even than they were when he made his first voyages to the banks of the Nile. Beautiful Circassian and Georgian girls are still owned in the houses of wealthy Muslims, and Abyssinians scarcely. less favored with personal charms; but they are not often "sampled" so remorselessly as this, even in the private market reserved for wealthy purchasers. The painter has taken advantage of his opportunities, however acquired, to produce a most forcible and dramatic situation. The would-be purchaser tests the soundness of the slave's teeth (an important attribute in the Orient, where the lack of dentists, and the great consumption of sweets by the women, tend to destroy it, by the practical use of his forefingers. The girl submits to the indignity with the best grace she may; the owner or broker behind her, holding her drapery, part his own lips in unconscious sympathy; and the handsome, smooth-faced youth to the left bends his straight brows in annoyance. The "construction" and arrested motion in the three big hands of the men of this group are worth notice. The background of the enclosure in which the market is held is occupied by varied clusters of slaves of both sexes, crouching and standing, and purchasers or on-lookers promenading and disputing. Behind the broker are three or four negresses, veiled and unveiled, sitting on a carpet, one of them holding her half-naked child in one of those poses of unconscious and natural awkwardness into which infancy falls so readily. The sooty youngster, regardless of his surroundings ,and of the uncertainties of his own fate, sways downward to pole, in an absorbed manner, at the edge of the rug with his bit of stick; his important affairs are small to the world, but the great things of the world are small to him. The painter previously, in his "Cleopatra before Caesar," had used the same model employed for the female slave, and the likeness of the two faces, queen and bondwoman, is identical.

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