In the Harem by Filippo Baratti

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In the Harem by Filippo Baratti

Painting NameIn the Harem
Painter NameFilippo Baratti
Completion Date1881
Current LocationPrivate collection

Being an orientalist painter, Filippo Baratti produced paintings mostly based on the East Asian cultures. He, himself was a Hungarian painter, who took great interest in eastern cultures and had a knack to depict them with cultural respects.

Middle Asian Islamic Culture

The current painting represents a middle Asian or northern South African culture where harems (separate buildings for wives and concubines in Muslim culture, restricted for unauthorized people to enter) were the part of the royal and aristocratic society.

The painting is more than 100 years old. The exact date isn’t specified. But, we can assume that at the time of the depiction, the Harem practice was very province and normal as even today, in some Muslim countries the custom of harem is in use. Though, in most other countries, keeping multiple wives isn’t allows in religious or legal ways, Islam freely allows polygamy for men. It is in practice even today in some Islamic countries out of respect for the conventional ethics.

Custom of Harem

Mostly, only wealthy people were able to keep multiple wives as it would be very costly. Because, the wives weren’t going to sit silently in their harems. To show-off in societies, men would buy expensive clothing and jewelries for their wives and concubine (whose number was counted in hundreds sometimes). That isn’t a thing a poor man would be able to carry.

Apart from the chief wife or wives, other women weren’t allowed to speak in most of the family matters and thus they would pass their times, strictly staying in harems until they are called out by their husband, in harems.

The current painting represents such women in harem passing their time with some music.The royal rooms seems to be very comfortable with heavily decorative elements. We could assume the harem to be located in a northern South African Islamic country as the singing maid is an African born. Other three women are very much interested at listening the song.

As for a symbolism, we could assume the little lute the African woman playing is perfect for the scene. A lute is a sexual symbol and harem’s one of the main purpose was the sexual pleasure.


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