Born in Spoleto, Italy on 28 December 1847, Cesare Detti received his formal education at the Accademia di San Luca and worked under Fortuny and Podesti. His first exhibition was in Naples in 1872, followed by another in Rome in 1876. As a result of his success in Italy, he began receiving invitations to international exhibitions which caused him to relocate his studio to Paris, where he would live for the remainder of his life. Detti exhibited frequently at the Salon and was awarded a bronze medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle and a silver medal in 1900.
In the present work, Detti depicts an odalisque reclining on a leopard fur, reaching for her hookah in a palatial room decorated with marble columns and freshened up with the smell of incense coming from the beautiful, and rather large tombak buhurdanlik. Objects such as the large incense burner, the full pearls, the very detailed gold and silver thread textile draped on her laps, the leopard fur, the brooch and the architectural elements suggest that this is a harem in a palace or in a very wealthy household. The colonnade as well as the size of the floor tiles confirms the grand size of the setting. On the other hand, it was not customary to have the presence of men in harems, indeed there are records of extensive punishments for those who try to sneak into the harem. Only female musicians would have been allowed to perform in front of an odalisque or alternatively women could listen to music from behind screens. The presence of the musician, depicted in worn out clothes as well as rough textiles is to illustrate servitude rather than courtship. The musician serves as a foil to the luscious and luxurious life of the odalisque.