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An odalisque (Turkish : odalık / اوطهلق ) was a chambermaid or a female attendant in a Turkish seraglio, particularly the court ladies in the household of the Ottoman sultan.
The word "odalisque" is French in form and originates from the Turkish odalık, meaning "chambermaid", from oda, "chamber" or "room". It can also be transliterated odahlic, odalisk, and odaliq.
Joan DelPlato has described the term's shift in meaning from Turkish to English and French:
The English and French term odalisque (rarely odalique) derives from the Turkish 'oda', meaning "chamber"; thus an odalisque originally meant a chamber girl or attendant. In western usage, the term has come to refer specifically to the harem concubine. By the eighteenth century the term odalisque referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a nominally eastern woman lies on her side on display for the spectator.
An odalik was a maid that tended to the harem, but she could eventually become a concubine. She was ranked at the bottom of the social stratification of a harem, serving not the man of the household, but rather, his concubines and wives as personal chambermaids. Odalık were usually slaves given as gifts to the sultan by wealthy Turkish men. Generally, an odalık was never seen by the sultan but instead remained under the direct supervision of his mother, the Valide Sultan.
If an odalık was of extraordinary beauty or had exceptional talents in dancing or singing, she would be trained as a possible concubine. If selected, an odalık trained as a court lady would serve the sultan sexually and only after such sexual contact would she change in status, becoming thenceforth one of the consorts of the sultan.
W. S. Gilbert refers to the "Grace of an odalisque on a divan" in Colonel Calverley's song "If You Want A Receipt For That Popular Mystery" from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience.
In popular use, the word odalisque also may refer to a mistress, concubine or paramour of a wealthy man.
During the 19th century, odalisques became common fantasy figures in the artistic movement known as Orientalism, being featured in many erotic paintings from that era.
By the later 19th century, Turkish writers such as Melek Hanum used the word odalisque to refer to slave-concubines when writing in English:
If any lady possesses a pretty-looking slave, the fact soon gets known. The gentlemen who wish to buy an odalisque or a wife, make their offers. Many Turks, indeed, prefer to take a slave as a wife, as, in such case, there is no need to dread fathers, mothers, or brothers-in-law, and other undesirable relations.
In 2011, the Law Society of British Columbia brought a discipline hearing against an unnamed lawyer for referring to another lawyer's client as living with an odalisque. The Law Society found the use of the word, though an extremely poor choice, did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.
Contemporary sculptor Karen LaMonte referenced the term Odalisque when describing her Nocturnes, a series of life-sized sculptures that depict evening dresses with the wearer absent. "I subverted the tradition of the Odalisque—the idealized recumbent female nude—by taking away the body," LaMonte said.
A seraglio or serail is the sequestered living quarters used by wives and concubines in an Ottoman household. The term harem is a generic term for domestic spaces reserved for women in a Muslim family, which can also refer to the women themselves. The Ottoman imperial harem was known in Ottoman Turkish as Harem-i Hümâyûn.
The Ottoman Empire developed over the centuries a complex organization of government with the Sultan as the supreme ruler of a centralized government that had an effective control of its provinces, officials and inhabitants. Wealth and rank could be inherited but were just as often earned. Positions were perceived as titles such as viziers and aghas. Military service was a key to advancement in the hierarchy.
Sultana or sultanah is a female royal title, and the feminine form of the word sultan. This term has been officially used for female monarchs in some Islamic states, and historically it was also used for sultan's consorts.
Harem, properly refers to domestic spaces that are reserved for the women of the house in a Muslim family. This private space has been traditionally understood as serving the purposes of maintaining the modesty, privilege, and protection of women. A harem may house a man's wife — or wives and concubines, as in royal harems of the past — their pre-pubescent male children, unmarried daughters, female domestic workers, and other unmarried female relatives. In former times some harems were guarded by eunuchs who were allowed inside. The structure of the harem and the extent of monogamy or polygamy has varied depending on the family's personalities, socio-economic status, and local customs. Similar institutions have been common in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations, especially among royal and upper-class families, and the term is sometimes used in other contexts. In traditional Persian residential architecture the women's quarters were known as andaruni, and in the Indian subcontinent as zenana.
Valide sultan was the title held by the "legal mother" of a ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The title was first used in the 16th century for Hafsa Sultan, consort of Selim I and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent, superseding the previous title of mehd-i ulya . Normally, the living mother of a reigning sultan held this title. Those mothers who died before their sons' accession to the throne were never bestowed with the title of Valide Sultan. In special cases, grandmothers and stepmothers of a reigning sultan assumed the title Valide Sultan.
The Imperial Harem of the Ottoman Empire was the Ottoman sultan's harem - composed of the wives, servants, female relatives, and the sultan's concubines - occupying a secluded portion (seraglio) of the Ottoman imperial household. This institution played an important social function within the Ottoman court, and wielded considerable political authority in Ottoman affairs, especially during the long period known as the Sultanate of Women. The utmost authority in the Imperial Harem, the valide sultan, ruled over the other women in the household; she was often of slave origin herself.
Ottoman court or the culture that evolved around the court of the Ottoman Empire was known as the "Ottoman Way". To get a high position in the empire, one must have been skilled in the Way. It included both knowing Persian, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish and how to behave in court, in front of the sultan, and in formal and religious occasions.
Kıbrıslı Mehmed Emin Pasha was an Ottoman civil servant and statesman of Turkish Cypriot origin, who served at the top post of Grand Vizier during three different times under the reign of the sultan Abdülmecid I.
Odalisque With Raised Arms is a painting by Henri Matisse, completed in 1923. The oil on canvas measuring 23 by 26 inches is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Matisse's style changed and evolved drastically throughout his career, including a wide and varying collection of paintings depicting the female nude. His Odalisque paintings were inspired by his trip to Morocco. Many of the female subjects in the Odalisque paintings were modeled after Matisse's main model at the time, Henriette Darricarrère.
Women in the Ottoman Empire had different rights and positions depending on their religion and class. Ottoman women were permitted to participate in the legal system, purchase and sell property, inherit and bequeath wealth, and participate in other financial activities. The Tanzimat reforms of the nineteenth century created additional rights for women, particularly in the field of education. Some of the first schools for girls were started in 1858, though the curriculum was focused mainly on teaching Muslim wives and mothers.
Gülnuş Sultan was Haseki Sultan of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV and Valide Sultan to their sons Mustafa II and Ahmed III.
Haseki Sultan was the imperial title used for the chief consort of an Ottoman Sultan. Haseki sultan meant "chief consort" or "single favorite" of the sultan. In later years, the meaning of the title changed to "imperial consort". Hürrem Sultan, principal consort and legal wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, was the first holder of this title.
Kalfa was a general term in the Ottoman Empire for the women attendants and supervisors in service in the imperial palace. Novice girls had to await promotion to the rank of kalfa. It was a rank below that of usta ("master"), the title of the leading administrative/supervisory officers of the harem. The titles usta and kalfa belong to the terminology of Ottoman guild organization and other hierarchically-organized corporate bodies. Officially slaves or service girls, these women - depending on their rank - could wield considerable authority and influence in their duties and were generally treated with much respect by lower-ranking attendants in the harem as well as by members of the imperial family.
Mahidevran was the consort of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire and the mother of Şehzade Mustafa.
Fatma Sultan was an Ottoman princess. She was the daughter of Sultan Ahmed I and Kösem Sultan, sister of Murad IV and Ibrahim, and the paternal aunt of Mehmed IV. She is known for her many political marriages.
Şemsiruhsar Hatun was a concubine of Sultan Murad III of the Ottoman Empire.
Fatma Sultan was an Ottoman princess, the daughter of Sultan Abdulmejid I and sister of Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire.
Hoşyar Kadın was the fifth wife of Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire.
The Sultanate of Women was a period of extraordinary political influence exerted by wives and mothers of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. This phenomenon in the early modern period, approximately between the years 1533 and 1656, began during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent with his marriage to Hürrem Sultan. These sultanas were either the wives of the Sultan, referred to as Haseki Sultans, or the mothers of the Sultan, known as Valide Sultans. Many of these women were of slave origins, as was expected of the sultanate, since traditional marriage roles were considered too large of a risk for the Sultan, who was expected to have no personal allegiances outside his title. During this time, Haseki and Valide Sultans held political and social power, which allowed them to influence the daily running of the empire, as well as requesting the construction of buildings, and philanthropic works.