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Imagination of Orientalist Artists

An Itinerant Doctor at Tien-Sing, Thomas Allom, 1845

An Itinerant Doctor at Tien-Sing, Thomas Allom, 1845

The Snake Charmer, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1879

In An Itinerant Doctor at Tien-Sing, Thomas Allom depicted Chinese mountebanks playing with snakes, accentuating exoticism, inscrutability and otherness. It echoes another famous orientalist painting The Snake Charmer by Jean-Léon Gérôme focusing on similar elements. Gérôme is a famous French Orientalist painter. He completely conceived of the snake charmer from his artistic mind, which remarkably looked realistic. A nude young boy is holding a snake, while a man next to him is playing his flute and a group of men of varying ages watch. The room in which the scene takes place features beautiful Arabesque tiles and a stone floor. Likewise, in Allom’s engraving, he depicted itinerant doctors in China as another kind of “snake charmers.” Allom probably made up this scene by looking at other Orientalist paintings of his time, because there is no evidence proving that Allom had been to China. Linda Nochlin points out that “the seemingly photorealistic quality of the painting allows Gérôme to present a realistic scene as if it were a true representation of the East.” Similarly, in An Itinerant Doctor at Tien-Sing, archway, eave, roof beams, and cantilevered bracket in traditional Chinese architecture were depicted in great detail. Comparing The Snake Charmer by Gérôme with An Itinerant Doctor at Tien-Sing by Allom, a power structure between the East and the West can be seen. Linda Nochlin argues that Orientalist paintings depicting Eastern society as a place of backwardness, lawlessness and barbarism are actually representations of western colonial ideology.

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