slave market in rome

Slave Market in Rome”, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, ca 1884.


The first time I saw this painting, I was 13 - 14 years old. And it really was a painting that made me understand a few things about how a woman might be viewed and degraded. I guess it’s possible to say that this painting was my first introduction to feminism, as I up until then had found it difficult to really know what it was all about. So if this painting provokes you; well, that’s probably the intention behind it.

During his lifetime, Gérôme painted six versions of this slave market. They all focused on how the women were degraded and undressed in front of men who discussed how much the women would be worth or what the highest bidding should be. This was the “secret” side of Rome, the side not many - not even today - tend to focus on.
But someone might say that “times were different back then”, but were they really? I know about many women who feel like the young woman in the painting. Degraded and embarrased. Scared. These days, just walking down the street might cause men and boys to stare and/or make remarks about a woman’s body. Is this painting really very much different from what women experience today? Of course not. Even now, boys and men might find it “funny” to suggest prices as a woman walks by.

So as you probably can tell, this painting has made me think. And if the painting provokes, I can only say that it probably was meant to provoke.