Inside The Harem

If the sun had not been female,

even she would never have been allowed

to enter the harem.

Dursun Bey


Grand Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

on the cover of The Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier

“For your blog… Happy Saturday!” wrote a beloved blog fan who shares my enthusiasm for reading, travel, art and the language of gifts.  When a thoughtful note comes with a surprise like this book of gorgeous illustrations, how can any day be less than happy?!

It transported me to my week in Istanbul, breathing in the musk of the Turkish Straits on a rooftop with a 360 degree view,  speculating on the lives of the local women in traditional dress below.  I toured the Topkapi Palace’s Grand Seraglio and imagined those cloistered in the Sultan’s harem from 1500s to 1900s. Walking through the empty boudoirs, marble baths, and latticed hallways, I wondered–despite my love of fancy costume and interior decor–how did it feel to live in a cocoon of physical and spiritual isolation?  What secrets, what drama, what boredom had these stairways and alleys witnessed?

Renditions of European women in various states of elaborate undress was a major theme in Western art and may not have anything to do with the reality of the sultan’s harem, but why forbid imagination and creativity?  I adore women relaxed in the sensuality of their bodies,  some with a frank stare, others heedlessly enjoying an unselfconscious moment.  And, oh, the beauty of intricate mosaics, rich silks and velvets, and the pleasing curves of skin like ivory!

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to tell us what you wish were not forbidden.


Odalisque With a Slave by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres


The Bath by Jean-Leon Gerome


The White Slave by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte de Nouy


The Daughters of a Sheik by Conrad Kiesel


Leila by Sir Frank Dicksee


© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mountain
    Nov 08, 2013 @ 08:38:21

    What a beautiful gesture from your blog fan.

    As enjoyed these incredible paintings my eye was caught by “Leila”. The intricate detail as if she had been photographed. I looked further and found that this painting has also been titled, “Passion”. I completely understand why as you look at her eyes, you are drawn in and have to wonder where her thoughts are taking her.

    I think I will pass on answering your question this week on the grounds I might implicate myself. 😉



  2. Mountain
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 08:47:06



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