Jeanne Thil (French, 1887–1968)
Troglodyte Village at Chenini
Gouache on paper, 9 1/4 x 11 1/4 in.
Situated between two mountains in southern Tunisia, Chenini was in earlier times a ksar, a fortified settlement in the desert. By the time Jeanne Thil’s visited the site, however, it had been long abandoned, although local Berbers had taken to living in caves in the surrounding mountains. The brilliant white mosque at the center of the composition was dedicated to the Seven Sleepers, a group of youths mentioned in the Qu’ran (Surah 18, verse 9-26). Fleeing religious persecution, they hid in a cave and fell into an enchanted sleep that lasted 300 years, only to then awake and discover the world completely transformed. The group of Berbers in the foreground of the image could almost be mistaken for such sleepers, coming out from their cave and approaching a town that has been so dramatically altered by the passage of time.