Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant was a famous representative of Orientalism (the Western practice of appropriating characteristics of Eastern art and culture) during France’s Third Republic. Although a remarkable colourist, he remained attached to academic principles. He taught at the Académie Julian, which was teeming with foreign students, including Canadians Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté and Paul Peel. Benjamin-Constant’s international reputation explains the presence of major works by him in the collections of Montreal’s banking and railway magnates as of the 1880s. The artist visited North America on several occasions, and spent time in Montreal in 1888, preparing for his participation in the 1889 Exposition universelle in Paris, where he exhibited this painting. In the deep space of the receding arches, the upright, manly poses of the sultan and his men accord with the verticals of the monumental architecture and contrast with the vulnerable bodies of the women sprawled on the ground. The women – streaming hair and tears, faceless and naked – are put on display like common objects: terror hangs in the air.