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Promoting reuse: the incorporation of salvages and replicas in aesthetic interiors, in Egypt and elsewhere (1870-1880)

  • Mercedes Volait
Tuesday 24 October 2017
LUCIS Fall Fellow 2017: Mercedes Volait
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

The Islamic antiques collected by travelers or residents in the Middle East during the 1870s were frequently interrelated with the fashioning of period interiors. Affluent bachelor aesthetes or artists typically indulged in such “quasi living museums”. Objects served as furniture (or props); fragments of architectural salvage from demolished structures, whether tiles, marble slabs or carved woodwork, were used for floors, doors, wall surface or ceilings. The spolia were in some instances complemented by replicas of historic ornament cast in plaster, as well as by revival design. This decorative genre was nurtured by a specific high end collecting culture mourning irretrievable pasts, that was typical of post-revolutionary France.

With the refurbishing of the Gothic palace (later Museum) of Cluny in the 1830s, in order to house his medieval objects in an appropriate setting, art collector Alexandre du Sommerard had set an inspiring model. A “Cluny arabe” was the term used to qualify one such revival achievement in Cairo in 1876. Islamic period interiors classically acted as physical stages of social interactions and as places for performing distinction. They moreover expressed gendered definitions of the self, at a time of changing masculine lifestyles. Local equivalents to these “total works of art” can be traced. Overall, an art consumption that was intrinsically architectural in context and spirit took shape.

Beniamino Facchinelli, [The Mamluk style house of Gaston de Saint-Maurice in Cairo], from Raccolta artistica di fotografie sull’architettura araba, ornati ecc. dal xii° al xiii° secolo fotografia italiana del Cav. B. Facchinelli, Cairo (Egitto), MDXXXLXXXVII [sic : XXX for CCC, i.e. 1887], (Courtesy of INHA Library).
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