Mosaic Frieze

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Detail of Arab Hall Mosaic from salviatimosaics.blogspot.com

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Design For Mosaic Panel, Walter Crane, ca. 1865-1915, Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints and Drawings Study Room.

Walter Crane (1845-1915), a well-known aesthete and illustrator, designed the mosaic frieze for the Arab Hall. The frieze was executed in 1881, when most of the hall had already been completed.[1] While he was best known for his work illustrating children’s books, Crane worked closely with Morris and Co., an important decorative arts company, to design wallpaper, stained glass, and decorative plasterwork. Walter Crane and his wife Mary Frances (1846-1914) moved to Wood Lane, Shepherd's Bush, in 1873 and became well known in Holland Park, where they probably met Leighton.[2]

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Mosaic at La Zisa, Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

When designing the mosaic for the Arab Hall, Leighton showed Crane pictures of the mosaic at La Zisa.[3] This mosaic consists of a short rectangular panel set into the main niche opposite the entrance and is continued around the room by a thin strip of tiles with a plant motif. It consists of three circular frames set to a gold ground and surrounded by grapevines. The center frame contains two archers while those on the left and right show peacocks flanking a palm. The Arab Hall mosaic contains similar colors, themes, and compositions to that of La Zisa, but is much more elaborate. The frieze wraps around the entire room and is dominated by swirling grapevines with cockatoos, peacocks, and deer. The mosaic was executed by Salviati Glassmakers and the Murano Glass Company in Venice.[4]

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View of Mosaic in Arab Hall, photo by Sutton Vane Associates 

The peacocks in the Arab Hall reflect both the mosaic at La Zisa and the tastes of the Aesthetic movement. Crane's treatment of the peacocks is much more dynamic then at La Zisa. At La Zisa, the peacocks stand at attention. Their tail feathers are straight in the air and their wings are at their sides. In the Arab Hall the peacocks necks twist into an S-shape, and their wings are lifted away from their bodies. Their tail feathers twist out in long curls that fill the space behind them. In the niches above the divan, the mosaic is divided into three circular frames, a direct reference to the composition at La Zisa. This composition is more subtly referenced in the spiraling vines flanking the central niche on the main wall.      

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Detail of Peacocks from Mosaic at Arab Hall, from salviatimosaics.blogspot.com

[1] Robin Simon, ed., Lord Leighton 1830-1896 and Leighton House: A century celebration (London: Apollo Magazine, 1996), 13.

[2] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Crane, Walter” by Alan Crawford, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32616 (accessed November 23 2016,).

[3] Simon, Lord Leighton and Leighton House, 13.

[4] Ibid., 13.

The Arab Hall
Mosaic Frieze