Feminism In The Ottoman Empire

1615 Words 7 Pages
A fundamental facet of empire is conflict, and throughout the early modern period, the Ottoman Empire of the Turks was in continual conflict with its European neighbors. In 1716, as part of an effort to protect British economic and political assets from this conflict in this trans-imperial borderland, Sir Edward Wortley Montagu was dispatched as ambassador to Istanbul. Accompanying him on the journey was his wife Mary, who would eventually become one of the most influential women in 18th century Europe. Montagu is a divisive figure due to her commentary on such polarizing subjects as early feminist theory and her role as a potential boundary-crosser; she aspired to be both a part of and apart from the cultures she experienced. The collected …show more content…
The power of empire has long rested on the cultural and political Othering (i.e. systematic alienation and/or exclusion) of subordinate groups by dominating imperial forces, and the Romantic aesthetic of beauty necessarily reflects the larger ideological framework of Orientalism and the exotic Other. As first outlined in Edward Said’s seminal 1978 work Orientalism, European conceptions of ‘the East’ have been largely constructed. For example, “Islam and Muslims came to [symbolize an Other] that could be used to mobilize support for territorial conquest, and to redirect intra-European conflict outward” since the British Crusades and the Fall of Constantinople; a sentiment clearly reflected by the depictions of gender in the canon of Romantic Oriental art. Accordingly, early Romantic understandings of feminine beauty deeply reflect an aesthetic of imperialism; depictions of the sublime in the context of Orientalism reveal a deep correlation between the exotic and the erotic. Lady Mary’s work offers an unparalleled perspective on Oriental beauty from a British imperial viewpoint through the feminine …show more content…
Portraits of Lady Mary from this period depict her magnificently ornamented in Oriental clothing, yet are rendered in a late Baroque style that suggests Romantic themes. The portrait attributed to Richardson the younger is a perfect example. Montagu appears as the central figure upon a vague Romantic landscape, clothed in extravagant yet elegant ‘Turkish dress’, and flanked by a young colored page. She strikes a dramatic figure, pale skin and glowing robes a stark contrast to the darkness of the pastoral backdrop and, more importantly, the dark figure of the page at her right. The contrast in lighting furthers the Romantic conception of the pure beauty of the imperial versus the sublime nature of the

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