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Mary Roberts

14 November 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Organized by: MIT Architecture
Venue: MIT Architecture, Building 7, Room 7-429 (Long Lounge)
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge
02139
The Poetics of the Orientalist Interior

Frederic Leighton’s Holland Park home was one of the most famous British Orientalist interiors in nineteenth-century London. His home, the site of his creative practice, it was also an evolving work of art and a space into and out of which objects, art works and people travelled. Here Leighton amassed an exceptional collection of Islamic art. The quality of the historic Near Eastern tiles and the artistic ambitions of their installation in Leighton’s Arab Hall, built between 1877 and 1879, distinguishes his Orientalist interior from the homes of his peers.

The Arab Hall was conceived as a gesamstkunstwerk, a secular aestheticist fantasy of suspended time in which historic near eastern craft production was synthesized into an harmonious aesthetic present tense. Accounts by contemporary visitors disclose the experiential poetics of this orientalism. This interior was created through Leighton’s collaborative efforts with architect George Aitchison, ceramicist William De Morgan and Walter Crane. The inclusion of over one thousand early modern tiles from ?znik, Damascus and Persia made by unknown craftsmen prompts a consideration of the role their creative practice plays in the space. William De Morgan undertook the challenge of replicating tiles parts to repair some of these historic multi-tiled panels. In doing so he submitted to an apprenticeship across time, as the products of his kiln were answerable to the superb precedents of the near eastern master craftsmen. The Arab Hall’s tile panels had been designed for other interiors and their history of dislocation from those walls is often legible in their fragmentary remnants and scarred surfaces. In this lecture Roberts addresses the ways in which this obdurate materiality posed an impediment to an aesthetics of synthesis. 

Mary Roberts Professor of Art History, University of Sydney

Mary Roberts is the John Schaeffer Professor of Art History at the University of Sydney.  She specializes in nineteenth-century British and Ottoman art with particular expertise in Orientalism, the history of artistic exchanges between the Ottoman Empire and Europe and the culture of travel. Her books include: Istanbul Exchanges. Ottomans, Orientalists and Nineteenth-century visual culture (University of California Press, 2015), Intimate Outsiders. The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature (Duke, 2007) and four co-edited books: The Poetics and Politics of Place. Ottoman Istanbul and British Orientalism (Pera Museum and University of Washington Press, 2011) Edges of Empire. Orientalism and Visual Culture (Blackwells, 2005), Orientalism’s Interlocutors, (Duke, 2002) and Refracting Vision. Essays on the Writings of Michael Fried (Power Publications, 2000/2012).