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Ragnhild J. Zorgati

From Denmark to the hammam: the international female networks of the Danish – Polish painter Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann

Being a cosmopolitan painter constantly on the move and with the mission of getting contracts to portray elite men and women and of selling her art, the Polish-Danish artist Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann (1819-1881) traveled extensively in Europe and beyond. Dividing her time between Copenhagen and Rome, she also visited London, Dusseldorf, St. Petersburg, Athens, Istanbul, and Cairo. Later, she recorded her memories from these travels in Brogede Rejsebilleder (Motley Images of Travel).

In this paper I will explore the female international networks that Baumann established during her travels, especially drawing attention to her contact with Ottoman women in Istanbul and Cairo. These encounters include meetings with Princess Nazili in her harem and with Madame Cabouli Pasha, an advocate of female liberation, in her salons, as well as with anonymous women in one of Istanbul's hammams. As such, my paper is also about the progressive narrowing of space which occurs in Baumann's travelogue: from moving spaces such as the boat and the train, via the cosmopolitan salons of Madame Cabouli Pasha where women and men mingled freely, to the strictly feminine spaces of the harem and the hammam. In the intimate, obscure and suffocating sphere of the latter, Baumann's artistic gaze no longer has a horizon as she finds herself facing the marble floor of the hammam under the professional hands of a bathing maiden. Consequently, her travelogue also comes to a halt – she only gives us a very brief description of her hammam visit – before she swiftly changes to more colorful scenes. It is as if she cannot describe in writing what she cannot observe as a painter. Moreover, one may ask whether this narrowing of her visual field explains why she never painted a hammam scene, despite her many harem paintings and despite the fact that the female hammam was a popular oriental topos of the European art marked of which she was a part.

SvD, September 2011

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