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The Myth of the Orient

Architecture and Ornament in the Age of Orientalism

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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Carl von Diebitsch (1819-1869): Moorish Style as State-of-the-art Architecture in 19th-century Cairo



Diebitsch’s bathroom in Schwerin Palace (1857) as nucleus for his further building contracts in Cairo

When Berlin court architect August Stüler took over managing the construction of Schwerin Palace in 1851, he made sure that Heinrich Strack from Berlin cooperated with him for some internal architectural designing. Carl von Diebitsch, known as specialist for Moorish style, was recommended for planning the palace’s bathroom. Stüler’s decision to exchange the already existing double-spiral staircase made of sandstone with a single-run staircase in cast iron, had a major impact on Carl von Diebitsch’s future career development. Now he applied columns, cast in iron, to the palace’s bathroom (fig. 1), instead of the common marble columns he had just implemented in his previous work for the Albrechtsberg bathroom in Dresden.

Already long before, he actually worked in Schwerin, Diebitsch had argued for the adoption of Moorish architectural style as a model for modern designers in Germany. “Such designs would only cost around one thaler per square foot, and would therefore be preferable to wallpaper or paintings”1, Diebitsch claimed at the 7th annual assembly of architects and engineers in Braunschweig in 1852. ← 63 | 64 → At this early date, he recommended Moorish arched constructions, especially its columns, cast in iron, which could be decorated in a splendid Arabic way. Encountering opposition to his proposals, he continued undeterred. Nevertheless, his vision came true: 1870 Lauchhammer’s foundry pattern book offered richly decorated Alhambra columns,...

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