Griselda Pollock comments on the proliferation of harem imagery in the late nineteenth century:
“In European painting the combination of an African woman as slave or servant and an Oriental harem or domestic interior with reclining women, clothed or nude, represents a historical conjunction of two, distinct aspects of Europe’s relations with the world it dominated through colonization and exploited through slavery. The relations with Islamic culture – colonization – and with African peoples – trade in slaves and goods – collapse in Orientalist paintings into a trope for a masculine heterosexuality that is held in place by the displayed sexual body of a European or pale-skinned Arab woman. That there were Africans in Islamic North Africa there can be no doubt, but this rhetorical combination of sex and servitude is ‘logical’ only in an economy that has slavery as its political unconscious, and sedimented in its social rituals and erotic fantasies. This legacy – materially and ideologically – is, was part of Western modernity.”
Griselda Pollock, “A Tale of Three Women: Seeing in the Dark, Seeing Double, at least, with Manet,” Differencing the Canon. Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 294.