'Spanish Beauty at a Garden Window' is an exquisite example of orientalist painting by the Spanish artist Adolfo del Águila y Acosta. The artist produced several examples of Spanish 'Beauties' in painting, especially after 1900, often featuring women wearing elaborate lace mantillas. This example, however, from an earlier period in his career, is certainly his magnum opus in how it combines the subject of a Beauty with an elaborate floral and architectural still life: In the painting, Adolfo presents a vision of a Moorish woman leaning over a wood screen. Wearing a headdress adorned with gold pendants, a gold bracelet, and a gossamer veil, her gaze is transfixed upon the viewer. Above, purple morning glories reach across the arch of the window, the horseshoe form and elaborate carving of which typify Mudéjar style in Islamic architecture. Below, an elaborately decorated cobalt ceramic ewer rests within a burst of chrysanthemums, roses and cockscomb.
Orientalist paintings like this one are part of the Romantic spirit of the nineteenth century, casting a gaze on the past and of cultures exotic to the European eye. Painters often turned to the Islamic world, and especially the harem, as their subject. The harem was a space in Muslim households reserved for women and were spaces where European men were generally not allowed to enter. Because of this lack of access, male artists relied on hearsay and imagination to construct genre scenes of these spaces: they imagined the spaces with opulent decoration and filled beautiful women, slaves or concubines in oriental dress and often with European features. In addition to the implicit eroticism of these scenes, they also evoked a sense of cultivated beauty and pampered isolation to which many Westerners aspired.
Oil on canvas
48.5 x 24.75 inches, canvas
57 x 33.25 inches, frame
Signed "A del Aguila Acosta Cadiz 1893" bottom center
Plaque with artist's name, lower center of the frame
Overall good and stable condition consistent with age; light yellowing to varnish; missing one canvas key; areas of loss to gilded surface of frame.