The Conquest of Algiers
Hippolyte Lecomte designed lavish costumes for the theater. He also painted historical subjects and military themes. In 1827 he completed a canvas that combined his talents in an imagined abduction scene (Figure 14). The Kidnap depicts a raven-haired shepherdess in pouf sleeves and colorful skirts, arms flailing, as a man in a red turban carries her toward a waiting boat. On the beach, a swarthy accomplice stifles another girl’s screams, as dogs howl and sheep flee. Although a cluster of white houses and a few angular sails rising in the distance provide the only geographical cues, French viewers would have immediately recognized the picture’s locale and its context. Passionately committed to Greece’s struggle for autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, they would have placed the action somewhere in the Aegean, identified the villains as Turks and Egyptians, and pegged the female victim as Greek.
In 1820s France, the resonance of Mediterranean corsairing and captivity had shifted once again. The expansion of Atlantic slave trafficking, the growth of abolitionism, the spread of colonial revolution, and, finally, the independence of Haiti had already raised the profile of black slavery. Numerically diminished and practically forgotten until imperial competition and philanthropic activism pushed it onto the international agenda, the detention of Christians had become the slavery of blancs. Then during a conflict that lasted from 1821 to 1829, women (and children) from rebellious provinces flooded Ottoman slave markets, and the archetypal victim of Muslim warfare changed sex. In the course of this decade, French political discourse and popular imagery conflated the causes of Greek insurgents, sub-Saharan Africans, and European mariners.
By the time “the abolition of white slavery” became a rallying cry for the invasion of Algiers in 1830, long-standing fears about boys lured into sodomy had been largely supplanted by fears about mothers, wives, and daughters defiled, and the specter of apostasy had melded with the spec-