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The Arabian Nights, the tales that inspired artworks

26 avril 2016

Who has not heard about the tales of the Arabian Nights? This Eastern origin story arouses curiosity and inspiration in all fields of Art for centuries.

"Dawn chasing the night, Scheherazade broke out his tale..."

It all starts with the pride of the Sultan Shahryar, who, injured by the infidelity of his first wife, condemned her to death. He then decides not to trust women and to take every night a new wife that he will kill in the morning. While the blood has already spread, the daughter of the grand vizier, Scheherazade, shows herself. The beautiful ingenuous will suspend time through an eternal poem: night after night, she tells the king a story she stops at dawn, tickling the curiosity of his executioner. "This story is certainly very surprising, I am eager to hear more ..." A suite that the sultan will hear night after night. Scheherazade will make her story travel in China, India, Iraq, Persia, Syria, Egypt ... from heaven, in the middle of seas and in the depths of the underworld, thus escaping the fatal end that was promised to her.

A blurred origin

Despite its obscure origin, "the Arabian Nights" takes its place among the greats of literature that are fantastic writings of Homer, Platon meditations or mythical books of China. Many surveys have been conducted in order to discover the origin of these writings, and many agree that these tales were born in India. These stories then broadcasted in the Arab World with oral storytellers merchants who adapted them according to their language, culture and religion. The "final" version of the Arabian Nights (Alf laylah wa laylah) appears around the XIIIth or XVIth century, about 1000 years after the stories of the first tales.

Translations and release

The first Western translation is the work of French orientalist Antoine Galland (1646-1715). Under the dictation of a Syrian monk, he greatly reworked the original text by adapting it to the traditions of his century and of Europa. He voluntarily forgets some trivial elements, stripped the text of any eroticism and even adds untold stories like Sinbad Adventures, Aladdin or Ali Baba.

Nevertheless, this first artwork accessible to Western eyes releases the imagination of many writers who readapt the narrative, J. C. Mardrus (1868-1949)  then produced the most striking of all. Two centuries after Galland, the work of this French doctor, born in Cairo, is punctuated with eroticism, exuberance, costumes and majestic scenery, a version that triggers the madness of Nights in Europe and, this time, not only in literature...

From Gustave Doré to Walt Disney

The East is, for the first time, seen from the Arab side and not from the perspective of Westerners. All the arts will be overwhelmed by this consuming passion of the East represented by the West. From dancing with the Ballet Scheherazade by Diaghilev, to poems by Ravel, this new vision stimulates the imagination of artists and painters. Never shown, the Arabian Nights will then be born under the blows of brush by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) who represented in 1857 The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, in color. Others followed such as Leon Carré (1878-1942), Vitttorio Zecchin (1878-1947) and the British Dalziel Brothers as Arthur Houghton, John Millais and George Pinwell in particular. Chagall, Dulac, Picasso, Van Dongen also take up this theme.

In movies, impossible not to think about Bollywood that uses a lot this universe and about Disney and its cartoons. If the Arabian Nights provided material for many artists and thousands of artworks, Scheherazade has given three son to Sultan Shahryar, spread all her stories and obtained the grace of this latter.

Albena, artist of the week

This magical oriental universe also serves as inspiration for Albena, Carré d’artistes® artist of the week. She was born and raised under a totalitarian regime, in the Balkans, in Bulgaria. In this context, artists fascinate because it is one of the few activities which allows the escape of the mind. Living in the center of the capital, Sofia, she has the chance to be in a cultural atmosphere.

She works with oil paint and old glazes when painted on canvas or wood, and with China ink on paper. She is also developing a new mixed media on canvas where she makes the background in acrylic and uses pastels and monolayer oil painting. This process enables dynamic paint which changes color depending on the light.

Albena is inspired by fairy tales of her childhood illustrated by Bulgarian painters. The Greek, Hindu (Mahabharata) and Arab (The Arabian Nights) mythologies, Bulgarian and Orthodox icons, and even Japanese stamps are themes that feeds her work. She is also interested in contemporary graphic art and modern cinema.