Tuesday, July 5, 2011

l'Art Arabe, by Prisse d’Avennes

You know, I've held this post as a draft for ages now. I was hoping to be able to add something to the text copy, but I'm not going to. I'm just going to show you the images and let you see for yourself their jaw-dropping beauty and technicality.

I had an opportunity to study this set of immaculate original lithographs from 1877, entitled L’Art Arabe d’apres les monuments du Kaire, by Emile Prisse d'Avennes. It's hard to describe the effect of handling original prints that are centuries old. The artist's hand feel so intimately close that they feel as if they are alive.

These gorgeous prints are from the hand of "an artist of consummate skill" according to Mary Norton, writing for Aramco (which is incidentally the Saudi-Arabian Oil Company who's website is an incredible resource of excellent writing),  Emile Prisse d’Avennes. He was also "a writer, scientist, scholar, engineer and linguist, a genius who spent much of his life among the illiterate." I like this guy!

Ms. Norton goes on: "Of the hundreds of 19th-century Orientalists – those Western artists, scholars and writers who gravitated to the Islamic world following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 – few possessed so prodigious an intellect, such a trove of talents, so insatiable a curiosity or so passionate a commitment to record the historical and artistic patrimony of ancient Egypt and medieval Islam."

Taschen has recently re-published l'Art Arabe, as this new article in World of Interiors explains.

The World of Interiors magazine, June 2011

These next few are small fragments of the full page lithos, but they give you an excellent sense of the detail and artistry. Stencil designs, anyone?


  1. I can't even comment.....these are incredible. Somebody, please capture some of this in stencils.

  2. I've been looking at some of these as I'm working on a project for a client who was inspired by the work at the Taj Mahal which is similar.

    I would love to see and hold the real thing as appose to the Dover edition.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. These designs are all gorgeous. I keep going back to the first image, which is my favorite. The flow of the stem pattern is near perfection, but it's the flowers that amaze me. At a glance they seem almost random, then one notices that they also form interlocking festoons. Don't stare at the flowers for too long, lest the pattern changes your DNA!

  4. Glory, Glory!
    Undreamt of seeing.

    Artist's intoxication.

  5. SufI: Expressions of the Mystic Quest


    ... is a good introduction to the guild-lore and islamic esotericism underlying this kind of approach to geometric ornament.

    As are the very complete but yet accessible works of Western authors like Keith Critchlow, in particular his "Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach" for those who may have an interest in understanding or appreciating something deeper than the immediate and obvious beauty of surface appearances:

    Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach



    -- M

  6. Beautiful post and designs -- and I think you provided excellent copy as well for the long-held draft. Thanks for the Aramco web link, too. It was very nice to poke around and discover those walking tours.

  7. I have adapted many of these designs into stencils you will find them at The Stencil Library. I ship worldwide. Some of those designs can be found here.http://www.stencil-library.co.uk/ottoman-stencils/index.html

    You will find many projects done with these stencils on my blog. Oddly enough I have just been looking at a room by Albert Sultan (apt name) His website shows a room decorated with some of these stencils too. He is a customer in the USA.
    This was a lovely post. I am off to explore more about you.

  8. Mark, thanks so much for the links to great resource literature. I knew you'd like the images ;)

  9. You're very welcome, Al. Enjoy! Lots of good info there to inspire us all with hints toward possibilities of what ornamental forms, pattern making, decoration and of course therefore, decor for living & transforming spaces, causing them, effecting them, conditioning them, . ... might be/could include, etc.

    Wonderful cultural heritage. Just got the Taschen book. Really nice. I also agree that it beats the Dover edition. So these were first edition, books you held? Neat. You sure do keep finding them.

    Loved very much to, Mark Ruffner's comment about how looking at these made him feel like DNA could change! My kind of guy. (Hi Mark!, Hi Everyone!)


    -- M

    I think it's so interesting how/why people make/made design, no?