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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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Owen Jones and the Oriental Perspective



Long relegated to the margins of historiography, Owen Jones (1809-1874) appears as a discreet but significant figure for the decorative arts of mid-19th century Great Britain. An architect and decorator, as well as a designer, colour theorist and lithographer, Jones was involved in some of the most relevant and popular cultural events of Victorian England: the organisation of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham from 1852, as well as the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857. He also contributed to the creation of the Department of Practical Art and the Museum of Ornamental Art, ancestor to the Victoria and Albert Museum1.

For anyone interested in ornament and Orientalism, it is impossible to omit his name. As co-author of Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra (1836-45)2, a ground-breaking study on the architecture and decoration of the Nasrid palaces of Granada, and author of the highly influential Grammar of Ornament (1856)3, Jones demonstrated all his life a strong interest for Islamic ornamentation. A fact that has attracted attention and been interpreted both as an example of British imperialism or as a subversion of that very same ideology4. ← 149 | 150 →

The title of this paper is an obvious reference to Michael Darby’s 1983 exhibition The Islamic Perspective5. Jones himself, however, did not use the terminology Islamic, preferring instead the more general word Oriental. There is no doubt, though, that...

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