Paul Joanovitch was born in Versecz, near the Romainian border to
Serbia, to a father who was a well established photographer in the
town. The young man followed in the footsteps of his father and in
April of 1877, Joanovitch was admitted to a painting class at the
Academy of Vienna. Two years later, he found himself in a class with
Christian Griepenkerl and then in a special school for painting with
Leopold Carl Muller, another Orientalist. Although Vienna remained his home, he made several trips to Paris where he met his Hungarian friend Mihaly Munkacsy and won a gold medal at the Exposition universelle in 1900. Unlike other Orientalists, Joanovics derived his inspirations not from the Middle East, but from the European territories such as
Albania, Romania, and Montenegro that had fallen to the hands of the
Turks (M. Haja and G. Wimmer, Les Orientalistes des Ecoles allemande et autrichienne, Paris, 2000, p. 274).
In the present lot, most likely illustrating the dance of the
Gözde, which is Turkish for the Favorite, Joanovitch presents the women in a Turkish hamam or harem, dancing for each other. The term 'belly dance,' which is said to come from the French 'danse du
ventre' was coined at the turn of the century for the intricate hip
movements which incorporated the techniques of the Raks Baladi (see lot 18). Believed to have emerged as an art form in the courts of the
Ottoman Empire, it was first performed as sort of a birthing aid in
front of other woman.
The Gözde was one of four women the Sultan would select from the odalisques in his chambers. 'If one of the Gözdes became
pregnant, she would be promoted to the rank of Ikbal (Felicity) and become Kadin Efendi (Wife)' (I. Aksit, The Mystery of the Ottoman Harem, Istanbul, 2000, p. 41). The other women would aid the new
mother by teaching her to undulate and roll her body in natural, curvy snake-like movement to help with the delivery of the baby.
In the present lot, Joanovitch carefully recreates a detailed scene
inside the hamam, where the Ikbal belly dances to the rhythm of her fellow Gözdes who are clapping, rattling the tambourine and
playing the drum. The dance is for themselves and done with many
layers of colorful clothing, belted at the waist with no skin showing. The movements are refined and characterized by soft, flowing actions of the arms and isolated hip gyrations. As the women listen to the music
and watch the performance of their peer, they are being offered tea by the servants to increase their enjoyment of the activity.