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The Myth of the Orient

Architecture and Ornament in the Age of Orientalism

Edited By Francine Giese and Ariane Varela Braga

This volume commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Selamlik of Oberhofen Castle near Thun – one of the most significant Swiss Orientalist interiors, designed by the Bernese architect Theodor Zeerleder (1820–1868) – by presenting the latest research on the spectacular smoking room inspired by the luxurious reception halls in Cairo, which Zeerleder discovered during his travels to the East. At the same time, this collection of essays explores the significance of the famous city on the Nile as a privileged model for 19th-century architecture and ornamentation, bringing together papers by Mercedes Volait (Paris), Romain Siegenfuhr (Paris), Richard Parisot (Besançon), Elke Pflugradt-Abdel Aziz (Düsseldorf), Tarek Ibrahim (Berlin), Vincenza Garofalo (Palermo), Andrea Lermer (München), Rémi Labrusse (Paris), Ariane Varela Braga (Zürich), Leïla el-Wakil (Genève), Francine Giese (Zürich) and Annette Loeffel (Bern).

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The Myth of the Orient



On the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the Selamlik of Oberhofen Castle – one of the most significant Swiss Orientalist interiors, created by the Bernese architect Theodor Zeerleder (1820-1868) – the Institute of Art History of the University of Zurich, in collaboration with the Oberhofen Castle Foundation, organised an international congress. Held on 13th June 2015, it presented the latest research on neo-Islamic architecture and ornamentation, with a special focus on Cairo, as one of the prime destinations of 19th-century artists and architects in search of new inspiration.

One of them was the aforementioned Theodor Zeerleder, who was fascinated by Islamic architecture and ornament, which he came to know intimately during two extended journeys through the Near East in 1847/1848 and 1849/1850. Like many of his contemporaries, Zeerleder might have fallen prey to the fever for Egypt, following General Bonaparte’s expeditions to the Nile in 1798. In travel notes, letters, drawings and watercolours, the so far relatively unknown Bernese architect presented a multifaceted picture of the Orient – especially of Cairo and its domestic architecture.

Zeerleder’s extensive material, hold at the Burgerbibliothek in Bern, served him as main inspiration for the neo-Islamic smoking room of Oberhofen Castle, created between 1854 and 1855. While other architects used books like Pascal Coste’s Architecture arabe ou monuments du Kaire, first published in 1839, as primary sources – Ludwig Persius for the neo-Mamluk exterior of his Dampfmaschinenhaus in Potsdam (1841-1843) for instance – Zeerleder...

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