The lines between art and interior design have long been blurred, from the cave paintings in the prehistoric age through to the industrial revolution where manufacturers were keen to commission artists to develop, decorate and differentiate their products. Our newest and very painterly rug, Delphine, prompted us to explore the link between ‘art’ and ‘interiors’ in more depth.
Parietal art – cave painting in other words – dates back 35,000 years. Amazingly detailed paintings in ochre, charcoal and other natural pigments were used to illustrate extinct animals, human and geometric shapes. Examples include El Castillo Cave in Spain and Chauvet Cave in France, decorated with handprints and drawings. Although the focus back then was function and necessity, these paintings illustrate that looking after homes was a primal instinct and a sign of intelligence.
Although ancient Egyptians had no word for ‘art’, their love of beauty is reflected in their paintings, statues, crafts, architecture and ornate murals. Works were usually created by teams rather than individual artists, from stonecutters carving the hieroglyphics, gem cutters and metal workers inserting precious stones to painters adding vivid colours. The best collections of Egyptian art are housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Just three years ago, archaeologists in Egypt discovered two beautifully decorated tombs near Luxor dating back to the 18th Dynasty of the Egyptian New Kingdom (1543-1292BC). Both were covered in hieroglyphics and colourful murals on plaster (pictured below).
Staying in the same region yet fast-forwarding nearly 2000 years, the art of calligraphy was born in the first Islamic century when early formal scripts appeared in the Qu’ran. The genius of Islamic calligraphy lies not only in the endless creativity and versatility but also in the balance struck by calligraphers between transmitting a text and expressing its meaning in a visually-pleasing way. While not unique to Islamic culture – think oriental pictograms – Islamic calligraphy has been used much more extensively and in astonishingly imaginative ways, translating the simple written word into the most intricate art form. Fanciful variants decorated architectural inscriptions, ceramics, tiles, textiles, enameled glass and carved wooden paneling.
A couple of years ago, we collaborated with internationally acclaimed Iraqi artist Hassan Massoudy, Esti Barnes, our design Director, interpreted and transposed his world famous contemporary calligraphy work into a more substantial and tactile form in our Script collection.
The results capture the energy and dynamism of the original and reflect the blend of Middle and Far Eastern styles that shape Massoudy’s work. Each of the designs are hand-woven, primarily in fine Chinese silk to illustrate each detail. Watch the video for more info.
Another form of functional Islamic art arose in the Ottoman Empire during the 13th century and spanned the next seven. Fatih Sultan Mehmet (‘the Conqueror’) was especially interested in western art and culture, giving rise to Islamic-style architecture including his namesake mosque and the production of world-renowned Iznik tiles and homeware.
Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), a skilled calligrapher himself, galvanised the richest and most creative era in the Ottoman Empire, his chief architect defining the period’s glamourous style through the ‘Suleymaniye’ mosque complex and many others. As the rulers were of Muslim faith, the depiction of humans and animals was prohibited in most art forms. Instead, traditional floral elements such as intertwined vines and blossoms together with a naturalistic style of gardens and flowers were often depicted in interiors and ceramics, alongside the use of calligraphy and geometric shapes. Weavers produced beautiful carpets and rugs, some of pile, knotted, looped and tufted to create a plush carpet and others were flat woven kilims. Carpets often featured symmetrical geometric patterns.
Esti, inspired by this rich heritage, updated it for our Ottomania Collection a few years ago, illustrating the timelessness of this period.
Kaftan draws on the geometric patterns used by the master tailors and imperial kaftan-makers of the late 16th century Ottoman court. Reflecting the silk sheen and imperfections of these hand-made antique gowns, the intensity of the colour gradually fades across the face of the rug and the edges have an uneven finish.
Although Tuğra is the word for the Sultan’s imperial stamp, the sweeping swirls and loops that give this rug its distinctive eastern character are inspired by a calligraphic composition in Celi Sulus script (a bold 19th century style of calligraphy). The flowers are made from silk in a cut pile relief and the background is made from a wool loop pile.
As mentioned earlier, our Delphine rug is showcasing at next month’s London Design Week. The rug is a reinterpretation of the eponymous watercolour by Rebecca James Studio. Executed in over twenty colours, our founder and lead designer Esti Barnes carefully transposed the artwork to paper to create a rug that is true to the artwork. The oceanic-inspired design was then hand-tufted in plush art silk, enabling the colours to flow into one another, capturing perfectly the nature of the watercolour.
Utilizing the same technique, Esti turned a photograph of a multi-hued Phuket sunset by British photography artist Pam Weinstock into a luxury rug. By carefully visualizing and calculating the colour combinations for each square inch, only 10 thread colours were used which, by cleverly combining the hues in different ways, became 27.
We will continue exploring the links between the worlds of art and interiors at the intersection of beauty and functionality and building the results into our future rug designs. We are also looking forward to welcoming you at Design Week starting on March 4th at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour when we will also be launching a highly decorative collection of throws in wool and silk.