It has been said that the academic painting tradition reached its climax in the works of Jean-Léon Gérôme. His highly finished paintings exemplify the style, subject matter and technical mastery promoted by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, where he was an influential instructor. From 1856 to 1880 he made six journeys to the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. His paintings of Arab religion, genre scenes and the North African landscape made him one of the leading luminaries of the Orientalist art movement, which formed a society in 1893 and named him one of its honorary presidents.
A product of his 1868 trip to Egypt, Prayer in the Mosque depicts a service at the seventh-century Mosque of Amr in Cairo; the first ever built in Egypt and the whole of Africa. As it had fallen into disuse by the time of Gérôme’s visit, it is likely that he arranged the figures from photographs and sketches made elsewhere during his journey.