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Maulbertsch portrays the Orient from the perspective of 18th-century Vienna. The turbaned woman holds a banner with a golden crescent pointing towards a star in the sky, symbols of the Ottoman Empire. Above is the ghostly form of a celestial woman carrying a torch, representing Venus or the evening star. Such allegories of the East were common in representations of the four continents, Asia, Europe, America, and Africa. This painting may thus have been conceived as part of a set of four, though no other related works are known.

Despite the appearance of spontaneity in Maulbertsch’s dazzling brushwork, this oil sketch is probably a finished work, made for sale. Maulbertsch’s expressive command of colour and his fluid application of paint is comparable to that of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose legacy Maulbertsch inherited in the German-speaking world. Tiepolo also famously depicted Asia as part of his ceiling fresco at Würzburg which was completed in 1753. Maulbertsch would not have known this work, however, since he painted the sketch around 1650.


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