Ernst came from a family of distinguished artists. His father, Leopold Ernst, was a painter and architect who designed cathedrals. Rudolf entered the Weiner Akademie der Bildenen Künste in 1869. In 1874, he went on a study trip to Rome, and from there moved to Paris. He sent his first painting to the Paris Salon in 1877. Like Ludwig Deutsch, Ernst began his artistic career as a portraitist, and he did not make his debut as an Orientalist painter until 1885 upon his return from his first visit to Spain and Morocco. Ernst was familiar with the cultures he depicted, and had visited Morocco, Turkey and the Moorish palaces of Spain.
Above all other Orientalist painters, Ernst was a craftsman who used his exotic subject matter primarily as a vehicle through which to express his technical mastery of surface texture and colour. Like Deutsch, he had a strong sense of plasticity and form, which was best expressed through his depictions of artefacts. His concern was not extreme ethnographic accuracy (indeed he frequently juxtaposed objects from different cultures) but to dazzle his wealthy patrons with paintings that have an almost tactile, three-dimensional quality.
Most of the objects Ernst includes in his paintings were from his own personal collection. Similar to Jean-Léon Gérôme and Deutsch, with whom he was close friends, Ernst had gathered a sizeable group of artefacts, tiles, lamps, pottery, silks, satins and kaftans from his travels to Moorish Spain, Morocco, Tunis and Istanbul during the 1880s. In fact, Ernst's studio, crammed full of these artefacts, resembled a stage-set. The paintings he created there were visual anthologies, combining elements of these props with his own sketches and professional photographs. Almost photographic in their detail, his canvases are notable for their polished paint surfaces.
These qualities played to the commercial demands of the day: Ernst was a popular exhibitor at the Salon, rated particularly highly by American clients who sought out his large scale works to decorate their vast houses. The sense of opulence exuded in so many of Ernst's paintings was well suited to the surroundings in which they would eventually hang.
The present work exhibits all the hallmarks for which Ernst is best known. The picture plane is crowded with objects, creating an elaborate mosaic of exotic patterns, which play across surfaces as different as metals, earthenware, brick and stucco and woven textiles. Most extraordinary is the use of a technique, unique to Ernst among Orientalist painters, of scraping directly into wet paint to enhance the textural quality of the picture surface as can be seen in the rug which has been combed through with fine lines to simulate the effect of a weave. The overall effect is to create a painting that is both soothing and entertaining, inviting the eye to wander across a panoply of interlinked objects, colours and textures.