The French painter and printmaker Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant trained at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts both in Toulouse and Paris. His reputation as a colourist was quickly established following his initial exhibitions towards the end of the 1860s.
Important trips to Spain in 1870-1 and to Morocco in 1872 inspired him to shift from historical to Orientalist subjects. Under the influence of Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, as well as Delacroix, the paintings he exhibited at the Salon after 1873 were in fact all Orientalist in theme. Most of these Orientalist works date from the 1870s and early 1880s, after which he concentrated mainly on portraits and large decorative projects, receiving important commissions such as that of the ceiling of the Hôtel de Ville and the Opéra Comique in Paris. Despite his success in winning such commissions, he is best remembered for his Orientalist paintings, more often than not the result of his fantasy than of his direct experience of North Africa.
Theodora (c. 500-548) was empress of the Byzantine Empire and wife of Emperor Justinian I. She was born into the lowest class of the Byzantine society; Procopius, as well as other sources, confirm that she emerged as a comic actress and a courtesan. In 523 AD she married Justinian, and on his accession to the Roman Imperial throne in 527, he made her joint ruler of the empire, regarding her as a full partner in their rulership. Both are saints in the Orthodox Church. Theodora is remembered as a strong-willed woman, with a notable talent for governance, especially in her fight to give women the same legal rights as men.
For a carved ivory portrait profile relief of Benjamin Constant see lot 538.