Market Scene in an Imaginary Oriental Port
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Jean-Baptiste Pillement
French, about 1764
Oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.

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As centers of commercial and cultural exchange, seaports bring together people from distant and diverse places. Here, colorful figures dance amid an exotic port's marketplace, which is lined by tropical-looking trees and European-style homes. This scene does not depict a real location, but rather, a figment of the artist's imagination. It also reflects European fascination with the Orient in the 1700s.

In the painting's center, a man who appears to be Chinese dances and plays the bells, flanked by other, dark-skinned performers. Their figures cast long shadows across a flagstone plaza, mimicking the shapes of the garlands and swags draped on nearby trees and buildings. Veiled and turbaned vendors converse among the market stalls. At the back of the square, a Turkish sultana holds court in a tent topped with a crescent moon.

The busy port in the distance stretches toward the horizon, creating a sense of deep space. The painting's symmetrical composition implies the setting for a performance. Recent scholarship suggests that Jean-Baptiste Pillement may have made this painting to commemorate a ballet commissioned and performed in Vienna in 1764.