This is an exquisitely printed wallpaper illustrating the Thousand and One Nights tale. The story is told through a series of five frames or portals, each of which alternates with a smaller frame which remains constant. Each of the scenes is printed in brilliant colors with an ombre sky that shades from orange to blue. The gray background has received a special treatment in that it was polished or buffed to create a sheen, similar to an egg-shell or satin paint finish today. The polished ground creates an elegant contrast to the printed matt colors. The stage is set by the representation of Islamic architecture which includes the ornamental detail and multi-foil arched doorway characteristic of this style. The smaller medallion contains a cache of arms and armor, along with a treasure chest and pieces of gold, apparently stached in a clearing in the woods.
The origins of this story are unclear but it is presumed to be a mix of Middle Eastern and Indian stories transmitted orally over hundreds of years. The first European translation occurred in France in the early eighteenth century. While this is a rather dark story, in the end, the vengeful king is outwitted by the charm and masterful storytelling of Scheherazade. The tales of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sindbad were later additions added to the collection in these European adaptations.
This sample is an unused remnant from the Schloss Weikersheim, where this pattern was hung on the walls of a bedroom. Located in Weikersheim, Baden-Wüttemburg, Germany, the palace was constructed during the twelfth century. The elaborate interiors contained numerous wallpapers, from which Cooper Hewitt has acquired several unused samples.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator of Wallcoverings