United Kingdom 1829–1891
The Babylonian maid 1883
oil on canvas
Gift of JH McPhillimy, 1935
After visiting Egypt, Israel and Jordan in 1874, Edwin Long began to imbue his genre paintings, which focused on scenes of everyday life, with Middle Eastern imagery. Coinciding with the nineteenth-century Orientalist movement, in which Middle Eastern subjects were studied and represented from Western perspectives, audiences were drawn to the painstaking reproductions of friezes, figures and artefacts Long included in his compositions.
In this work, an Egyptian woman carries a special water jug used in purification ceremonies. Ancient civilisations revered water as a potent symbol of regeneration. The allusion to rebirth is further enhanced by the papyrus and lotuses decorating the jug’s surface, water plants similarly venerated as manifestations of abundant life, youth and joy.