An exotic visitor to Paris: context and possible identities for Claude-Marie Dubufe’s portrait
Fig. 2 / French School,
Portrait of a Man with
Turban, 1827, oil on canvas,
55.5 x 46 cm, Private
before being settled at the Jardin des Plantes, site of
the royal menagerie, where over the next few months
Zarafa was visited by 600,000 locals and tourists.7
Honoré de Balzac was inspired to pen a story about
her and la mode à la girafe gripped the French nation,
with women arranging their hair in towering styles,
and spotted fabrics becoming the rage. Hassan
returned to Egypt in October 1827, whereas Atir
stayed by Zarafa’s side for over another decade,
before also returning home.8
An exotic visitor to Paris: context and possible identities for Claude-Marie Dubufe’s portrait
Fig. 3 / Ducarme after ClaudeMarie Dubufe, Jeune Grec.
Etude No. 5, 1827, lithograph,
47 x 35 cm, Paris, Bibliotèque
Nationale de France.
As for notion that the sitter is a “jeune Grec”, this
identification fits into the widespread sympathy then felt
in Europe for the Greeks in their war of independence,
which began in early 1821 and culminated in 1832 with
the emergence of a new Greek Kingdom. The revolt
became a cause célèbre amongst the French public in 1822
with the news of the Chios Massacre, which manifested
itself most memorably, and powerfully, in Eugène
Delacroix’s famous painting, exhibited in the Salon of
1824. When Dubufe painted his portrait in late 1826 or
early 1827, the Revolt was at its most perilous stage for
the Greeks, largely because of Mehmet Ali’s important
military assistance on the side of the Ottomans. French
public outrage was therefore at its zenith. However,
the tide was definitively turned in Greeks’ favour with
the intervention of the Great Powers at the Battle of
Navarino in October 1827, where combined Russian,
British, and French might resulted in a crushing naval
defeat for the Ottomans and Ibrahim Pasha, son of
Mehmet Ali.
Bearing this historical context in mind, identifying the
sitter as either Hassan El Berberi or a young Greek
man is entirely plausible, even if, with its enthralling
backstory, the association with Hassan is more
seductive. Beyond the Sotheby’s copy, the lithograph
and the historical background, what other evidence can
be used to give credence to either identification?


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