Universiteit Leiden

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Gravensteen Lecture | Early Islamic art exhibits and sales in Paris (1865-1869)

  • Mercedes Volait
Friday 6 October 2017
Followed by drinks and snacks at the Faculty Club
LUCIS Fall Fellow 2017: Mercedes Volait
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
104 (Verbarium)

Early Islamic art displays are commonly associated with a set of shows that took place between 1885 and 1910 in London, Paris, Stockholm, Algiers and Munich. These were not however the first exposure of European audiences to artworks from the Middle East and North Africa. Every single World’s Fair since 1851 presented artefacts from the region, whether the product of contemporary craftsmanship or historic objects. Exhibitions promoting the renewal of the decorative arts – an anxiety of the time – typically included retrospective sections, and within these, Islamic objects.

The lecture will focus on three interrelated events that took place in Paris during the 1860s: the first show of the Union centrale des beaux-arts appliqués à l’industrie in 1865, the Egyptian exhibits at the Exposition universelle of 1867 and a large Islamic art sale auctioned on January 1869. Using correspondence, press clippings, catalogues, auction minutes and photography, the lecture will present major players at the three events (including a high official from Egypt), the type of pieces in circulation, the rationales and processes behind their motion, and insights on their economic worth. It will ultimately raise broader questions on the commodification and translocation of objects from the Middle East in the age of industry and spectacle.

Anonymous, [The Qaytbay mimbar exhibited in the Egyptian pavilion at the 1867 Exposition universelle in Paris, after its purchase by the South Kensington Museum in 1869] (Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum).
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