A look at the influence of oriental art and culture on western art and ideas, inspired by a new exhibition of modern art from the Middle East at the Saatchi gallery in London.
Fresh from his travels in the Middle East, the transformation of the former ambassador to Iran left his fellow Britons astounded.
It was not Sir Robert Shirley’s tales of his exploits in what was then Persia which intrigued and astonished his countrymen on his return, but his garb. Dressed head to toe in exotic Persian regalia, he stood out among his more conservatively dressed compatriots.
A portrait by Anthony Van Dyck shows him attired in a lavish gold and silver embroidered tunic, heavily brocaded gold cloak depicting scenes of woodland and flowers and an enormous turban.
For when Sir Robert was dispatched to Persia on his ambassadorial duties at the end of the 16th century, he embraced the country’s customs, apparel and artistic traditions so wholly, he enraged his own king, James I, for refusing to give them up once he was back on British soil.
Sir Robert was not the first to indulge in orientalism, the movement by artists, writers and designers to depict or adopt eastern cultures. But what he does give us is a glimpse into a very British love affair with Middle Eastern art which thrives to this day.
Scroll forward 400 years and the exhibition that has caused a recent stir in the western art world is Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East in the newly-reopened Saatchi gallery in London. . . . .
Matthew Girling, the chief executive of Bonhams, said: “The British have long been fascinated by the Orient and the Middle East and included elements of it into their designs.
“The travel operator Thomas Cook started doing tours to the Middle East in the 19th century, people were being exposed to Egyptology and there were archaeological excavations which were brought back to Europe and met with huge enthusiasm.
“We cannot imagine that time now but it must have been incredibly exciting as new discoveries were being made.”
See the above page for the full story.