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Framing 'Islamic Art' for Aesthetic Interiors: Revisiting the 1878 Paris Exhibition

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The 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris is known for the substantial scope and content of its Islamic art displays ‐ the most extensive offered to an international audience by that date. A renewed analysis of this influential event demonstrates that it featured a network of distinct ‐ though often interlinked ‐ installations that come under the label of 'Islamic art', situated across a complex site. These included national initiatives, such as L'Égypte des Khalifes, sponsored by the ruling Khedive of Egypt, and the purpose-built Pavillon de la Perse, constructed by master-builders dispatched from Qajar Tehran. Commercial undertakings included a display of Vincent Robinson's Iranian carpets in the British India section. At the Galerie orientale curated by Albert Goupil in the Palais du Trocadéro, other objects loaned from private collections were presented. Common across these various displays was persuasively staged architecture. This article argues for the centrality of architectural salvage and reconstruction in the early history of private and public displays of Islamic art. By examining the different individuals who created both L'Égypte des Khalifes and the Galerie orientale, article proposes a new assessment of an elite domestic culture, pursued by affluent bachelor aesthetes of the period, with many modern resonances.
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Keywords: Cairo; Islamic art; Khedive Ismail; Paris 1878; South Kensington Museum; architectural salvage

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 0000000404881060 Chester Beatty Library 2: 0000000121129282 InVisu, Centre national de la recherche scientifique

Publication date: March 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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