Not on display
Many Victorian artists were fascinated by Middle Eastern cultures, which seemed strange and ‘exotic’ to British eyes. Ayesha was a common name in the Middle East, but Prinsep may also have been aware of the name’s wider association with poetry. Rider Haggard’s book She, published in the same year that the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy, featured a fictional character Queen Ayesha; it is possible that this is intended as a portrayal of her.
One of the wives of the prophet Mohammad was also called Ayesha, though there is nothing in the painting to suggest this portrait was associated with her. For Prinsep, the single female figure subject provided a vehicle for his skilled drapery painting and sumptuous use of colour.
Gallery label, September 2004
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