Commenting on the painting, Holly Edwards observes, "Looking at The Snake Charmer is an intense experience. Vivid and full of intriguing detail, it implies a titillating story. So seductive is the image, in fact, that many viewers have succumbed to a desire to touch the boy's naked body. As a result, the painting is now under a protective layer of glass. The visual seduction, moreover, is not confined to vicarious pleasures of the flesh. The unwary museum visitor is also enticed into thinking that the story is somehow 'true,' for such images seem to record reality as it presents itself to the naked eye. This, one might suppose, is what the Orient is really like. But what is the 'Orient'? Who says it is 'really' like that? And what agendas does it serve to make such a claim?"
Edwards also notes that The Snake Charmer was chosen to be the cover art for the first edition of Said's Orientalism (1978), and she goes on to write, "While Said propounded his thesis in reference primarily to literary evidence, art historians extended his insights by considering the visual arts, most particularly nineteenth-century French paintings like The Snake Charmer. The ensuing scholarship has generated an increasingly nuanced appreciation of the imperialistic agendas, gender inequities, and racial prejudices that underlie such depictions of the erotic, exotic East and the processes of power that they make manifest." (Edwards, Noble Dreams Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000): 11.)
For further commentary on The Snake Charmer see the entry in Nineteenth-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.