Mosaic frieze, circa 1881-1882
Designed by the Victorian artist/illustrator Walter Crane
Why Is It Important?
Frederic Leighton supplied Walter Crane (1845-1915) with a photograph of the mosaics at the palace of La Zisa (which translates as "Palace of Delights") in Palermo, Sicily. The interiors of this 13th century Norman-Moorish palace were the inspiration for Leighton's Arab Hall.
The inherited Classical traditions of the Graeco/Roman world and the use of figurative Byzantine style mosaic was commonly found in secular Islamic buildings of the Western Muslim world, particularly Syria.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that Leighton's frieze was meant to be seen as anything other than a purely decorative feature, elements contained within it have strong symbolic meanings for many cultures and a long pedigree in the history of art. In looking at these elements the response of one viewer might be very different from another.
Highlights from the frieze
Snake coiled around a tree: This is a symbol of healing, regeneration and reincarnation. Originally associated with the Roman god of medicine, Aesculapius, the symbol survives to this day as the sign of the medical profession.
Far and Middle Eastern cultures had venerated the snake as a symbol of wisdom, healing and immortality long before ancient Greece and Rome.
Peacocks: Eastern symbols of dignity and beauty. Also associated with immortality, as the peacock renews its plumage every year.
The rulers of the Ming dynasty in China used peacock feathers to highlight their esteemed position. However, other cultures see bad fortune represented in the eye of the tail feathers.
Eagles and storks: For cultures that viewed the snake as a negative element (particularly with the arrival of Christianity) the fact that these birds killed snakes ensured that they were given positive associations.
Note the battling eagle and snake on the north wall.
Next : Calligraphy tile panel, date unknown.
Previous : Fountain circa 1879-1880.
End Arab Hall Tour.