[This essay has been adapted from Terry Reece Hackford's 1981 Brown University M.A. thesis, "Lord Leighton's Arab Hall". The photographs, which date from 1977, are George P. Landow. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.] [GPL]

Brighton Pavillon in Fog Brighton Pavillon in Fog

Two views of the Brighton Pavillon in fog. [Click on thumbnails for larger images]

John Nash had shown at the Brighton Pavilion, iron, due to its great strength and malleability, could easily be shaped into the delicate, curvilinear motifs characteristic of Islamic ornament. The light, airy kiosks created from this marriage of iron and Eastern forms became an accepted formula for nineteenth-century exhibition architecture.

Three years after the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace was re-erected in Sydenham as a permanent exhibition hall. Jones and Wyatt were among the architects who seized the opportunity to build within it ambitious, full-scale models of historical and foreign architectural styles. Among these were Wyatt's Byzantine Court and Jones' Alhambra Court. In the latter, Jones condensed the whole palatial complex at Cordova into a few rooms; expending much of his effort on a rendition of the famous Court of the Lions. The authentic East had arrived in England in edifices large enough to be experienced as monumental architecture.

Yet even into the 1850s and 1860s the enthusiasm for Islamic styles still failed to bear significant fruit in the form of actual buildings. This relative dearth of monuments is all the more curious because it occurs at just the point when archaeological and historical study of the East was flourishing. Whatever hopes may have been entertained for the success of a widespread Eastern revival never materialized. It was fundamentally a picturesque style — a style of irregular rooflines, tantalizing curves and domes, and glimpses through latticed porticoes — a style laden with pleasurable and often erotic associations.

It was this quality of association that limited the context within which an Eastern style was appropriate. It was perfectly suited for places of entertainment; the air of the seraglio would enhance such an environment. From the 1830s on, patrons of London's pub music halls enjoyed their drama and their drink within gaudy "Moorish" interiors.The Leicester Square Theatre, which originated as a building in the "Saracenic" style in 1857, survived a few faltering years to be redeemed by an American entrepreneur who redecorated it in a Moorish style in 1860 and threw its doors open again under the name of the Royal Alhambra Palace. The public baths in Leeds, designed in 1866 by Cuthbert Broderick and now completely altered, resembled a misplaced mosque. But for extensive use in a Christian, civic, or commercial architecture, Oriental rhapsody was often out of key. Despite the efforts of Jones and Wyatt and the style's popular appeal, Ruskin and Pugin held the world of architectural theory in a moralistic grip which undermined a style whose main selling point was its hedonistic associations.

Despite the rarity of entire buildings in an Islamic mode, during the 1860s Eastern styles flourished in the field of interior design. One reason for the intensified interest was a pattern book unequalled before that time: Owen Jones' Grammar of Ornament, published in 1856. Here Jones analyzed ornamental styles ranging from those of primitive tribes to the Renaissance, and he included chapters treating Moorish, Arabian and Persian styles. In each chapter he consolidated a wealth of patterns from documented sources, which he reproduced in multi-coloured lithographs, thereby making the Grammar of Ornament a crucial sourcebook of design motifs for craftsmen and commercial designers alike.

Last modified 29 March 2013r