Orientalism influenced paintings of historic and religious subjects.
During the romantic period, many artists attributed the qualities of civil liberties and a commitment to civil society to remote historical figures, often as the result of political submission. The subjects chosen frequently represented a glorious past, interwoven with heroic acts, and imbued with a symbolism that reminded viewers of their national identity. Besides “official” history paintings, other works, which were very well received by progressive groups in Europe, could also be found at International Exhibitions. Amidst a period when Orientalism in painting continued to establish itself by depicting both religious subjects and what might be termed “historical costume dramas”, and in the wake of an Orientalism that was finally split between realism and historical documentation—characteristic of the work of many artists who were attracted to learn through travel to the East—the large painting of Stephen Ussi appeared. The Ussi represents an interesting example of an important commission, awarded by the Viceroy of Egypt to a Western artist in 1869, on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal. It was exhibited at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873.