Ethnographic Exoticism: Charles-Arthur Bourgeois’s Snake Charmer

Maria P. Gindhart

Abstract


In Charles-Arthur Bourgeois’s Snake Charmer, the figure and the serpent, the ethnographic and the zoological, reinforce the exoticism of the Orient. Shown in plaster at the 1863 Salon and in bronze the following year, this sculpture of a dancing, flute-playing African with a coiled snake at his feet was remarked upon for breaking academic tradition and for representing an ethnic type. Since 1874, the bronze has been displayed outside the reptile house in the menagerie at the Museum of Natural History in Paris where it forms an exotic contrast with the neoclassical architecture and recalls the far-off native lands of the reptiles inside.
The feeling of type is rendered with a rare skillfulness and it is unnecessary to look at the head to be convinced that one has before one a child of the desert, so much does the whole of the figure present the exotic character. (de Blainville 1863: 3)1

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