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The trade in antiques in 19th c. Cairo and Damascus: conflicted supply and keen suppliers

  • Mercedes Volait
Tuesday 10 October 2017
LUCIS Fall Fellow 2017: Mercedes Volait
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

The Western discovery and appreciation of Islamic objects from the Middle East fostered a strong demand for curios and antiques among visitors and residents. Contrary to mainstream assumptions, looting or plunder was not the only way to get hold of seek-after goods. Standard trade functioned too. Two major market-places for antiques, from the mid-19th century onward, were Cairo and Damascus. Based on evidence from Western and Arabic sources, the lecture will look into the procurement and availability of curios and old artefacts in late Ottoman Cairo and Damascus, and the range of agencies involved.

Urban obsolescence, aspirations to change and cash necessities were among the factors that favored the commodification process. The production of Islamic-style fittings and furniture by local craftsmanship developed in parallel, as did the creation of fakes. Transactions attached to the direct sale of assets belonging to pious foundations have also been recorded and generated occasional conflict. Emblematic providers emerged. The web of people and situations involved in the trading of valuable commodities in the late Ottoman Middle East represents a more complex panorama than the one delineated so far.

Pascal Sebah, [The shop of antiques dealer and cabinet-maker Gasparo Giuliana, who sold objects to the South Kensington Museum in 1883] (Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert museum).
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