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The apogee of Orientalism, which refers to a cultural current in Europe centred on an interest in the cultures of the East manifesting itself in art, architecture, music, literature, and the theatre, arrived in the 19th century, when a distinct Orientalist current sprang forth from academic painting, inspired first and foremost by the cultures of the Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as of Moorish Spain.
In the specific case of Poland, interest in the Orient goes back to medieval times; a natural result of her geographic location, which rendered Poland particularly susceptible to influences from the East. To a large extent, this period in Polish history was defined by successive wars with the Ottomans, and it left an indelible trace in culture. A variety of equestrian types, generic skirmishes and great historic battles were depicted many times by various skilled artists, as well as Oriental characters, landscapes, and genre scenes –first and foremost of the harem. The latter subject matter, popular among audiences, was often taken up by painters who had never been to the East themselves.
The exhibition catalogue presents works by the artists among them Jan Matejko, Wacław Pawliszak, Jan Ciągliński, Jacek Malczewski, and especially Stanisław Chlebowski, the court artist of Sultan Abdülaziz, are included, and also sheds light on the artistic influences of Poland’s cultural interaction with the East, different from the Western Orientalist approach, through history, diplomacy, battles and travellers.
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