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Middle Eastern Bellydance Art

Updated on May 28, 2016
Ilonagarden profile image

I took bellydance lessons and performed, then became interested in costume. The historical relationship of dance and culture is fascinating.

Depiction of Bellydance in Art

During the 19th Century, Orientalism became popular in the art world. Writers, artists, and designers portrayed the Middle East and North Africa through their eyes in their art.

At different times in the Twentieth Century and to this day the Middle East fascinates with its decorative and sensual flavors which we'll briefly explore. Something of a magic carpet ride to view art that celebrates the art of the bellydance.

With the resurgence of interest in the dance style, especially in modern and tribal forms, there is also a renewed interest in the art that has been created and in new illustrations for cards, etc. Enjoy the show.

Eugene Alexis Girardet
Eugene Alexis Girardet

Famous Artists, Orientalist Style

Orientalism was popular in Victorian times

An entire genre of work arose in Victorian times, called Orientalism, which was centered on Middle Eastern subjects. As a part of that culture, dancers were sometimes depicted.... as well as the slave markets and other portions of the Islamic world. One difficulty that Orientalist painters encountered was the segregation from almost all the female population and the scenes of their lives.

Although artists painted in the style known as "Orientalism" in earlier times ( called 'Turquerie,' and other labels), it was in Victorian times that it became quite popular. "Depictions of Islamic "Moors" and "Turks" (imprecisely named Muslim groups of North Africa and West Asia) can be found in Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art."

Leon Bakst painted sketches of costuming for Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.


A Study for a Figure of a Dancer for Scheherazade

Leon Bakst

The costume paintings of Leon Bakst are featured here because his designs for the Ballet Russe were both theatrical and authentic in style to create a true look of the costumes of the harem.

Costume Design for Salome in "Dance of the Seven Veils," 1908

by Leon Bakst

One of the attractions of this subject is the colorful and exotic costuming. the chance to show off technique in the rich and sumptuous fabrics, the imaginative use of feathers, jewels and other adornments draws the artist and the viewer to the details and engage with the pictures.

Costume Design For the Red Sultan, from Sheherazad

by Leon Bakst

Perhaps you don't wish to have the transparency of materials, but it can't be denied that the authentic feel of the styling and pattern are important inspirations for a costume that will flow with the dancer, and create the exotic atmosphere of Middle eastern dance.

Zobeide, the Favourite Concubine and Leader of the Harem of Shariar

by Leon Bakst

Another illustration of why the art of Bakst is a great reference for belly dance costuming; it was made for the stage and the colors are wonderful.

by Fissario

Jean-Leon Gérôme painted scenes of Middle Eastern subjects, a few depicting the danse du ventre.

More works from this artist

Jean-Leon Gerome - The complete works by Jean-Leon Gerome

Another by this artist shows his liking for dark shadings contrasted with bright planes of color. the modeling of flesh is very sensual and realistic.

Orientalism - a selection of pictures

William Clarke Wontner is one engaging artist of this genre. Other Orientalist painters are Jean-Leon Gerome (examples shown previously in this lens),John Frederick Lewis, Lord Edwin Weeks, Ludwig Deutsch, Rudolph Ernst, and Eugene Fromentin.

For more information and paintings to view see this site on Orientalist art.

About nineteenth century Orientalism:

With fascination for Middle Eastern culture paired with the drive to incorporate greater realism, the movement exploded with popularity for a time. It was a fad, and it might be argued that during the Victorian age it was a way to display subjects that would have been taboo except for it's association with another culture that was viewed as being "corrupt". It was also influenced by historical events such as the French conquest of Algiers, or the building of the Suez Canal.

Nerissa, 1906

John William Godward

John William Godward was a student of William H. Wontner, Father of the Orientalist artist, William C. Wontner .

"[Godward's] family being acquainted with the noted architect, designer and renderer William Hoff Wontner (1814-1881), and, John William exhibiting some early drawing skills, they apparently saw little harm at the time in allowing their son to study at least rendering and graining with him during the period 1879-1881 - on a recreational basis in the evenings. This he did together with the architect's son, William Clarke Wontner, who was to become his lifelong friend. Godward was destined to become an acknowledged master of faux marble and his skill in rendering perspective and architectural elements surely had their origin in this period."- J W Godward boiography


The Slave Dealer, 1880

by Robert Dowling

Depiction of historic cultures, their habits and attitudes is another reason this style holds fascination. This is one work that tells a story, and stories have always interested people. A whole history lesson can be contained in a painting, including the attitudes of the observer who records a scene either imagined or noted from life.

What do these paintings tell you? What are the Western attitudes towards the Middle East in the nineteenth century? Towards women or the relationship between men and women? How does the artist view these things?

The Odalisque

Jan Frans Portaels

Many Orientalist paintings represent the "Odalisque". What was this?

An Odalisque was:

" ...a concubine in a Turkish harem, particularly the concubines in the household of the Ottoman sultan"

A Harem Beauty Holding a Fan

Gabriel Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier

Dance of the Almeh

Dance of the Almeh
Dance of the Almeh


Egyptian dancing-girl, belly-dancer, 1814, perhaps from Arabic almah (fem. adj.), "learned, knowing," from alama "to know."

Also spelled: alma, alme, almeh

Many Interpretations of Belly Dancers - Different Genre from the Fine Art, but Interesting

What do you think of Orientalism?

See results
Modern Artist on Zazzle
Modern Artist on Zazzle

Uses For Modern Belly Dance Art

If you have a bellydance studio, wall decals are an easy way to decorate with inspirational and topical pictures -plus no holes made in the wall!

Sending cards announcing performances, using custom postage to ensure interest.

Sharing your hobby with others.

Decorating walls in your home, or your studio.

Sign Here - and give your review of belly dance art

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    Post Comment
    • Ilonagarden profile imageAUTHOR

      Ilona E 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      @sukkran trichy: Thank you so much for blessing this lens!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      9 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      love your belly dancers picture collection. well presented lens. ~blessed by a squid angel~


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