This figural landscape paper contains four different views and is printed in about 13 colors. This is a cleverly rendered pattern with a complicated format that was inspired by arabesque designs of the late nineteenth century. The earlier arabesque designs contained landscape scenes or activities placed upon thin plateaus, each delicately balanced and supported by ribbons or floral garlands. These plateaus were left open which kept the design very light and delicate.

Figural landscape papers of the mid-nineteenth century contain similar views but enclosed them in rustic foliate frameworks, making the design denser. Beneath each view the ground foliage trails off, then is rendered in a silhouette format, more or less blending with the sky in the scene below, and each landscape view is delicately intertwined with surrounding views. Bridges and architectural features run diagonally to keep the viewer’s eyes traveling around the design. The densely patterned and brightly colored architecture and foliage are offset by the softly shaded voids of the sky in each view. The staggered landscape views enclosed within a vining foliate framework design format is typical for this period, as are the scenes of peasants chateaus. It seems one is always looking up at the chateaus, which increases there sense of grandeur, while looking directly at figures. Perhaps this makes it easier to identify with the portrayed figures.

This arabesque design (1998-75-101) is a classic example of these floating islands. This paper contains two different views, and each is placed upon a thin slip of land. The exquisite modeling of the figures, and beautifully colored floral garlands, makes one forget about reality and that such a thing as gravity exists. Arabesque designs were inspired by the recently discovered ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii.


Gregory Herringshaw is the head of the Wallcoverings Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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