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Maulbertsch here portrays the Orient – the countries of the East – in the form of an allegory (when figures or objects are used to signify abstract concepts or a moral meaning). A turbaned woman holds a pole topped with a crescent moon and star, symbols of the powerful Ottoman Empire. She is accompanied by a man who also wears a white turban, and a magnificent white-golden coat. Figures with a camel appear in the darkness on the left, while on the right a crouching man pours coffee. Above, Venus, holding a flaming torch, represents the morning star – another reference to the Orient.
Such representations were common in eighteenth-century depictions of the four continents – Asia, Europe, America, and Africa. This picture may have been part of a series, though no related works are known. Despite the spontaneity in Maulbertsch’s dazzling brushwork, this oil sketch is probably a finished work painted around 1750.
In western culture during the eighteenth century, Asia generally referred to the eastern world, also known as the Orient. This is the subject of Maulbertsch’s painting, here portrayed in the form of an allegory (when figures or objects are used to signify abstract concepts or a moral meaning). A woman wrapped in pastel-coloured robes and wearing a white turban gazes invitingly towards us. She holds a pole decorated with a golden crescent moon and star, symbols of the powerful Ottoman Empire, which at this time controlled much of eastern Europe, as well as western Asia and north Africa. Her male companion wears a magnificent, richly embroidered costume and carries a curved sword.
Above, the ghostly figure of Venus holds a flaming torch, representing the morning star – another reference to the Orient. The scene is lit by a spotlight that emphasises the two main figures, as well as an elegant stone fountain. A large large jewelled turban, a quiver of arrows and a shield rest on the fountain’s edge, evoking conquest. Figures with a camel appear in the darkness on the left, while on the right a crouching man pours coffee. His hairstyle appears to be characteristic of Ukrainian Cossacks; he may be a captive.
This carefully composed scene is made up of a series of dynamic curves: the graceful lines of the fountain are echoed by the crescent shape of the retreating darkness, and the long arc of the stream of hot coffee is set off by the curve of the shield above. Despite the spontaneity in Maulbertsch’s dazzling brushwork, this oil sketch is probably a finished work. His expressive command of colour and his fluid application of paint is comparable to that of the great Venetian painter, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who famously depicted Asia in his ceiling fresco at Würzburg in Germany, completed in 1753. Maulbertsch would not have known this work, however, as he painted his sketch around 1750, at the beginning of his career. Maulbertsch continued Tiepolo’s legacy in the French and Italian rococo influences that prevailed in southern Germany and Austria throughout the eighteenth century.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such representations of the Orient were common in depictions of the four continents – Asia, Europe, America, and Africa. This picture may have been conceived as part of a series of four, though no other related works are known.
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