The Nubian Story Teller in the Harem

The Nubian Story Teller in the Harem

Frederick Arthur Bridgman
The Nubian Story Teller in the Harem
oil on canvas/huile sur toile
American Orientalist

Harem (Turkish from Arab Ḥarām, forbidden) refers to the sphere of women in a polygynous household and their quarters enclosed and forbidden to men. It originated in the Near East and came to the Western world via the Ottoman Empire. In more modern usage, it may also denote a number of women followers of a man.

Other languages, the term serraglio (Italian from Persian sarāy "palace, enclosed courts") carry similar meanings.

The word has been recorded in the English language since 1634, via the Turkish harem, from the Arabic Ḥarām (forbidden), originally entailing "women's quarters," literally: "something forbidden or kept safe," from the root Ḥarama "he guarded, forbade." The triliteral Ḥ-R-M is common to Arabic words entailing forbidden. The word is cognate to the Hebrew Ḥerem, rendered with Greek ’anáthema when it applies to excommunication pronounced by the Jewish Sanhedrin court - all these words mean that an object is "sacred" or "accursed".

Female privacy in Islam is emphasized to the extent that any unlawful breaking into that privacy is Ḥarām "forbidden".

Contrary to the common belief, a Muslim harem does not necessarily consist solely of women with whom the head of the household has sexual relations (wives and concubines), but also their young offspring, other female relatives, etc.; and it may either be a palatial complex, as in Romantic tales, in which case it includes staff (women and eunuchs), or simply their quarters, in the Ottoman tradition separated from the men's selamlik.
The harem of the Turkish Great Sultan, which was in the Topkapı Palace serraglio, typically housed several hundred - at times over a thousand - women including wives. It also housed the Sultan's mother, daughters and other female relatives, as well as eunuchs and slave girls to serve the aforementioned women. During the later periods, the sons of the Sultan also lived in the Harem until they were sixteen, when it might be considered appropriate for them to appear in the public and administrative areas of the palace. The Topkapı Harem was, in some senses, merely the private living quarters of the Sultan and his family, within the palace complex.

It is claimed that harems existed in Persia under the Ancient Achaemenids and later Iranian dynasties (the Sassanid Chosroes II reportedly had a harem of 3000 wives, as well as 12,000 other females) and lasted well into the Qajar Dynasty.

The women of the Persian royal harem played important though underreported roles in Iranian history, especially during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. However, this claim is disputed by some Persian historians.(Source: Wikipedia)

Here are other harem paintings:
  • Favorite of the Harem by Frederick Arthur Bridgeman

  • Harem Girl by Frederick Arthur Bridgeman

  • Harem Watchman 1903 by Ludwig Deutsch

  • Guard of the Harem 1859 by Jean Leone Gerome
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