Late 19th Century Spanish Orientalist Painters of Landscapes, Cultures & Costumes

IN THIS LECTURE, we will explore the 19th-century Spanish painters who made their mark on the genre of Orientalism. Through the artworks studied, you will learn about the fascinating culture and costumes of the Moroccan culture as fantasized and also recorded by the Spanish, during this era. Please read the Introduction before the lecture so that you are prepared. 


Orientalist painting in Spain was sparked by inquisitiveness about Morocco. This attraction was for obvious reasons. Firstly, the fact that Spain was close to Morocco. Secondly, the “African War” of 1859-1860, a dispute between Spain and Morocco that hinged on the unrelenting attacks of Berber tribesmen on Spanish settlements in North Africa, especially Ceuta and Melilla, on the north coast. Spain declared war on Morocco on 22 October 1859 and bombed the city of Tétouan (Arabic/ Berber) or Tetuán (Spanish) for two days and then entered the fight until the Treaty of Wad-Ras on 26 April 1860.

The conflict between the Moroccan Empire and Spain promoted a negative image of Moroccan society but it also awakened a keen interest too. It would soon become the protagonist of the Spanish pictorial Orientalism genre.

Morocco in Arabic means “west” however for Europeans it is thought of as eastern culture. For the  Spanish, it is an Islamized and orientalized country, as all Muslim culture is to the Western mentality. 

The early 19th-century representation of Spanish pictorial orientalism was based on fantasy and exoticism determined by the Romantics. To the Romantic painters, the seduction of the Moroccan culture was a way to detach from their reality and escape into a world of adventures and live a life not lived in their own country. It was a strange and exotic paradise full of mysteries. Their clients were thrilled at the emotions that were stimulated by the sublime and erotic narratives.

Later, the conflict in Morocco developed a more realistic view of the Moroccan culture. The Spanish Orientalist painters got a closer vision into the everyday real-world of Morocco and their approach to their painting style changed radically. It became important to portray the Moroccan everyday popular reality over fantasy and exoticism.

Mariano Fortuny was the great master of the genre who became a reference point for many other Spanish contemporary artists. Other painters followed him to North African and some stayed and chose realistic observation over an imagined and exotic world.