This is an arabesque wallpaper design from the late eighteenth century, containing two alternating views. The top view shows a woman, possibly Venus, within an arbor seated on a cross frame stool, playfully bouncing a putto, perhaps Cupid, on her foot. A tall urn sits behind her. A tree grows off to the left, towering above a spear of gladiola or delphinium blossoms. Another tree grows on the right side of the arbor though I’m less certain what this is. My guess would be a coconut palm, but the red motif appears more like a bell or nose. This alternates with a large footed vessel filled with a colorful bouquet of flowers, where a square planter box containing foliage is suspended on either side. Situated beneath the plinth on which the footed bowl sits, is a medallion containing a quiver with arrows, two additional arrows or spears, and a laurel wreath.

One of the characteristics of an arabesque design is that all the elements are delicately aligned along a central axis. The designs are not symmetrical, but they are always perfectly balanced. The arabesque designs mark the beginning of the neoclassical style which began under Louis XVI. At this time, the designs were delicate and fanciful and the motifs were slightly stylized to conform to the given aesthetic. France became a major player in the development and manufacture of wallpaper in the 1770s, and the arabesque designs were unique to France. They are said to be inspired by the recent excavations in Herculaneum and Pompeii which began in 1758.

This design shows a great use of complementary colors which give the design energy and make it vibrant. This particular paper has been cut and pasted together to form a complete repeat, but after two hundred plus years the colors still resonate.

Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings

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