In the nineteenth century, Orientalism functioned as a Western tool for dominating and restructuring the perception of the Orient. In France, where Orientalism found favor amongst artists, Orientalist works were produced in the literary and visual arts to inform and control the narrative about the East. Influenced by the Napoleonic imperial conquests and an increased French presence in the East, Orientalism became an integral movement in the French visual arts. The relationship between France and the Orient was one of power and domination, which was mirrored in that between the French and the Blacks.

As a part of the Western perception of the Other, the black individual had a unique role in nineteenth-century France. To be black in nineteenth-century French society was to be a second-class citizen. The existence of slavery, the increase in French ethnography, and racism in French society objectified the black individual, turning them into another symbol of French power and conquest. The exploration of this project will focus on the symbolic representation of the black body in nineteenth-century Orientalist visual art.

As two separate areas of exploration in Art History, Orientalism and Race Theory have seen growth in scholarship thanks to contemporary interests in race and post-colonial theory. However, the overlap between the two subject areas is limited in research. Through the analysis of black figures in nineteenth-century Orientalism, we can discover more about the role of the Black individual with respect to European society and the Eastern cultures in which they existed. This research project explores depictions of Blacks in nineteenth-century Orientalist art to clarify their societal roles and explore the imbalance of social perception and representation in nineteenth-century French society. This project will reveal the truths hidden within the depictions of the black form.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Geppert, Melissa


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program

Art History



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date