Here we see depicted a near-naked young boy standing on a carpet, facing the viewer and playing a fipple flute. In front of him sits a girl who is totally enthralled as a python begins to emerge from a basket, just beside her.
The art historian Sarah Lee has pointed out that although nakedness was exoticised in Orientalist works, for snake charmers there was in fact another reason for this. Lee notes that often young snake charmers nudity was not intended as an erotic display but used to ‘obviate charges of fraud’ in their performances.
The subject of this painting encourages comparison with Jean-Léon Gérôme painting of 1879, with the same name. Gérôme’s work was then made particularly well-known by being used on the cover of Edward Said’s book ‘Orientalist’, on 1978. As a result the work attained a level of notoriety matched by few other Orientalist paintings. It is therefore very likely that Gérôme’s painting inspired this artwork.
Luis Ricardo Falero
Luis Ricardo Falero (May 23, 1851 – December 7, 1896) was a Spanish painter. He specialised in female nudes and mythological, orientalist and fantasy settings. His most common medium was oil on canvas. Falero’s paintings are held mostly within private collections in Europe and the United States, although a watercolour of the ‘Twin Stars’ is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In England, Falero sometimes gave himself the title of Duke of Labranzano, a fictitious place name.
Falero was born in Granada and originally pursued a career in the Spanish Navy, but gave it up to his parents’ disappointment. He travelled on foot to Paris, where he studied art, chemistry and mechanical engineering. The experiments which he had to conduct in the latter two were dangerous, leading him to decide to focus on painting alone. He was a student of Gabriel Ferrier. After Paris, he studied in London, where he eventually settled.
Falero had a particular interest in astronomy and incorporated celestial constellations into many of his works, such as “The Marriage of a Comet” and “Twin Stars”. His interest and knowledge of astronomy also led him to illustrate the works of Camille Flammarion.
In 1889, in Rochford, Essex, Falero married Maria Cristina Spinelli, and in 1891 they were living at 100 Fellows Road, Hampstead. His wife was Italian and had a connection with Atina in the Province of Frosinone.
In 1896, the year of his death, Maud Harvey sued Falero for paternity. The suit alleged that Falero seduced Harvey when she was 17, first serving as his housemaid, and then model. When he discovered she was pregnant, he dismissed her. She won the case and was awarded five shillings per week in support of their child.
Falero died at University College Hospital, London, at the age of 45, leaving an estate valued for probate at £1,139. His widow María Cristina Falero was his executrix.
In 1937, following the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, an Italian War Cross of Military Valor was awarded to Riccardo Falero of Atina, Frosinone, referencing Maria Cristina Spinelli, suggesting that Falero had a son posthumously.