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A Sense of Place

The Carpet Merchant
Jean-Léon Gérôme, <i>The Carpet Merchant</i>, c.1887, oil on canvas
zoom Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Carpet Merchant, c.1887, oil on canvas


What's your first clue that this picture shows a different time and place? Perhaps it's the colorful robes and turbans of the men in the foreground. Or the rich carpets hanging on the wall and scattered across the floor. Is it the intricate carvings on the old stone walls, or the donkey in the doorway?

The scene at the Cairo rug market in Egypt was a new experience for the painter, too, when he painted it over a hundred years ago. Jean-Leon Gerome made several trips to Egypt from his home in France. On his travels he filled sketchbooks with drawings of people, animals, and buildings. Back in France, he used those sketches and his memories to paint pictures like this one.

Gerome wanted to show exactly what the place looked like. (Travelers to the Cairo rug market report that it looks much the same even today.) But he was also interested in the lives of the people he saw there. Who do you think is selling the rugs? Who are the customers? Who is just looking on? How can you tell?