Material History Students Visit Leighton House Museum
In May AKU-ISMC first year students taking Professor Stefan Weber's Material History course participated in a field trip to Leighton House Museum at Holland Park in London. The museum was the home of nineteenth century artist Frederic Leighton, and provides a perspective on orientalism and the development of private collections, one element in the formation of Islamic art.
The house, built from 1864 to 1866 with architect George Aitchison, was embellished and extended almost until Leighton's death in 1896. The centrepiece of the late 1870s extension to the house, and the focus of the material cultures excursion was the "Arab Hall". The "Arab Hall" has been designed to display the collection of ceramic tiles Leighton gathered during his travels in the 1860s and 1870s.
This ornately embellished hall is modelled after a banqueting room at the Moorish palace of La Zisa in Palermo, Sicily. The interior is a unique combination of late 19th century craftsmanship with the most important collection of 16th and 17th century Damascus tiles in Britain.
MA student Fayaz Noormohamed noted that the excursion to the museum was a useful and stimulating accompaniment to the material cultures course. He observed that Leighton designed the hall in a manner which could be seen to resemble the interior of a Mausoleum. In the centre of the "Arab Hall", he said, is a calming water fountain, an important feature of traditional Islamic architecture.
"The space gave us an appreciation of the attention and passion Mr Leighton held for Islamic art and architecture. We learned that it is… one of the first examples of a 'museum-like-space' dedicated to showcasing art from the Muslim world for a Western audience."
MA student Emilie Barnet expressed her enjoyment of the excursion, stating that, "[Leighton House] must be one of London's best kept secrets. Our particular interest was, of course, the "Arab room" which, although a misnomer had lovely examples of art and architecture from the lands of Islam."
Trips such as these provide students with direct contact with material cultures, converting theory learned in the classroom into a visible and tangible learning experience.
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