The Oriental Carpet and Modern Art and Literature

February 2, 2018 (3:00 pm - 4:00 pm)

Location: BAC 326

Department of Languages and Literatures

Departmental Seminar Series


The Oriental Carpet and Modern Art and Literature

Dr. Hans-Günther Schwarz, Professor of German and European Studies, Dalhousie University

The oriental carpet has played a role in Western art and literature since the time of Homer. It appeared around 1400 in Italian Madonna paintings, became an indispensable part of Dutch interiors in the 17th century, and maintained this role in realist painting of the 19th century. It was part of Western interiors caught by the imitative spirit of writers and painters.

With the symbolist movements in art and literature in the mid-nineteenth century, the carpet assumed a new role and became a model for a new style of painting. Instead of imitating the object world, works of art became purely imaginative, relegating the human eye to a secondary role. “Surface, ligne, couleur” replaced realist representation. This new idea of art was based on the carpet. With it came the ornamental orientation which was expressed by the act of “deréaliser” and “déformer” (Césanne, Gauguin, Maurice Denis). This artistic ideal culminated in the destruction of any observable reality in German expressionism (“Wirklichkeitszertrümmerung”).

Lukács in his Heidelberger Ästhetik (1916) sees the carpet as the ideal art, the architect Semper sees it as “Urkunst” (1853), the founder of all art. Textiles change the nature of texts. The common Greek derivative is often forgotten, but the carpet also influences poetry and the novel from Goethe, Heine, Hugo von Hofmannstal, Rilke, Stefan George to Else Lasker-Schüler.

In English literature, Oscar Wilde‘s The Decay of Lying gives the carpet its due. Henry James’ The Figure in the Carpet and Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage connect carpet and art and make it into a symbol of man’s existence.


February 2, 3:00 pm, BAC 236

Refreshments will be provided.

All are welcome!

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