Description: The Marabout Prophet Sidna-Asissa, Morocco signed and dated 'Lecomte du Nouy 1883' (lower right) oil on canvas 30 1/8 x 501/4 in. (76.5 x 127.7 cm.) Painted in 1883 PROVENANCE Mr. Psicha, Athens. Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 13 June 1973, lot 40. Gallery Kourd, Athens (acquired at the above sale). The Fine Art Society, Ltd., London. Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1979. LITERATURE G. de Montgailhard, Lecomte du Noy, Paris, 1906, p. 81 (illustrated). EXHIBITION Paris, Salon, 1884, no. 1465. NOTES Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Noy hailed from a prestigious family descended from a line of Piedmontese nobles, documented in France as early as the fourteenth century. In addition, both his parents were collectors and his uncle, Andre du Noy was official court painter to King Murat of Naples. Lecomte du Noy began his artistic training in the Parisian atelier of Charles Glerye in 1861 and quickly gained the praise of mentors who included Emile Signol and Jean-L‚on G‚r“me. Hailed as one of G‚r“me's brightest pupils, it was under the influence of the great French master that Lecomte du Noy took an interest in Orientalist subjects, although his oeuvre encompasses scenes from classical antiquity to portraiture. Moreover, because his artistic output was modest, his works are exceptionally rare. Indeed, due to his careful studied technique combined with his attention to architectural detail he has been referred to as "the epitome of academic Orientalism" (L. Thornton, The Orientalists, Painter-Travellers, Paris, 1983, p. 188). It was at G‚r“me's urging that Lecomte du Noy set out with fellow painters on an artistic pilgrimage to the far lands of the East visiting Turkey, North Africa and Asia Minor. His last journey was with fellow painter Charles Toch‚ to Morocco where the scenes of Tangiers and Tetuan served as the inspiration his later canvases. For the present work, exhibited at the Salon of 1884, du Noy drew his inspiration from the rich religious history of Morocco choosing as his protagonist the marabout prophet Sidna-Aissa, a mystic leader and healer living in Morocco in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Also known as Si-Mahmed Ben-Aissa or Sidi Muhammed (born Isa al-Fihri), this Qu'uranic prophet founded the religious brotherhood of Aissoua based on the rule of the Shadhiliya Sufis. He traveled extensively around the country preaching, and one of his many talents was his ability to grant his Marabout disciples immunity from wounds and disease. Not surprisingly, their ritual presence was often requested during epidemics where it was thought they could drive away disease through their ritual dances. These dances were frenzied group affairs characterized by animated jerking movements. They often included the formation of human chains around a ritual fire which may have also involved self-inflicted pain. Although the Marabouts depended on alms, they could wield great political as well as religious power. Sidna-Aissa amassed a strong following among the more fanatical populations and used his status to stir his people to wage holy war against the Portuguese and Spanish Christians who had been gaining power in the Mediterranean region since the beginning of the fifteenth century. Here, surrounded by a small band of eager followers, Sidna-Asissa, with his head tilted upwards, narrates one of his prophetic visions. In response, his disciples display a number of startled reactions communicated with near photographic realism. According to an anecdote recounted by Montgailhard, Lecomte du Noy modeled his 16th Century prophet on a modern Moroccan healer he met during his stay. The healer, however, distracted by Lecomte du Noy's presence, verbally directed negative premonitions towards the painter. Unperturbed by these threatening statements and determined to watch the scene unfold, the artist continued his careful observance of the men, rendering with his characteristic exactitude, every detail of the men's physical appearance, dress and accessories down to the calligraphy in Arabic on the wall which reads, "May God grant you health. May God give you strength".
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