Artist: Eduard Charlemont
(1848 - Austrian)
Title: The Moorish Chief 1878
Medium: Oil on Panel
Size: 59 1/8 x 38.5 in (150.2 x 97.8 cm)
The artist has chosen to paint this chief as a person to reckon with. Rather than placing the chief on eye level the figure is painted elevated in such a way that his gaze is cast downward onto the viewer, which emphasizes his position of superiority. This is however not a portrait of a real chief. Charlemont hired a model and dressed him in a burnoose (hooded cloak) which was typically worn by Arabs and Moors. The attention to his attire is astounding. Even a red cap shows from underneath the the Kaffiyeh (headdress)
The richly ornate scabbards ( sword covers) lack no detail and most likely were props the artist picked up on travels. The backdrop is based on the architecture of the Alhambra which is in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was built by Moors in the thirteenth century and was under muslim rule until 1492.
Source: Images Courtesy of
When the painting was first exhibited it was titled "The Guardian of the Seraglio". In Muslim households a seraglio was the portion of the home that was occupied by the females. Sheltered away from males, guards kept straying visitors at bay. This might also explain why the chief is holding one of the swords ready to defend the honor of the women he is protecting.
Paintings on panel allow for precise detail work, because of the glass like surface texture. It is one of the surfaces that I love to work with when I paint my portraits. Charlemont used the smoothness of this surface to really work all the details found in the scabbard and clothing and although entirely staged created a painting that looks almost like a photograph.