An Introduction to Orientalism
Orientalism is a term that refers to the Orient i.e. the East, in reference to the Occident i.e. the West. Orientalism is the study of cultures, peoples and languages of Eastern societies as viewed by Western scholars. In particular, it has been used to refer to works of 19th century scholars, especially British and French, in literature and arts that were reflections of their interpretation of Eastern societies, they had developed as a result of their travels to the East.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, a scholar who had specialised in the literatures and languages of the Eastern societies was called ‘Orientalist’. In the field of art, the term Orientalism was used to refer to the works of the Western artists who had travelled to Western Asia and were producing works on Oriental subjects by taking inspirations from their travels.
During the 19th century, Europe was fascinated by the ‘Orient’. Events that were taking place in the region, during this time, greatly influenced the works of Western writers and artists. The phenomenon was initiated with Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. Orientalist paintings during the beginning of the 19th century were made to do propaganda to support French imperialism.