Speaker: Anke Scharrahs, Conservator specializing in polychrome wooden surfaces
When: June 28, 2012
Where: Damascus Room
THE DAMASCUS ROOM IN CONTEXT: ACQUISITION, FURNISHINGS, CONSERVATION
A colloquium celebrating the opening of Shangri La's Damascene interior to the public on July 7, 2012
Many 18th and 19th century private houses in Damascus' Old City conceal rare treasures: luxurious, highly decorated rooms intended to welcome and honor guests. Due to years of regular use as multifunctional living spaces, these interiors have been significantly changed during their lifetimes. They were frequently cleaned, rearranged, and renovated, or covered by later varnishes or new paint layers. Only a very few examples have survived untouched with their original surfaces intact. Surprisingly colourful and embellished with an array of sophisticated painting techniques, these rooms provide us with new insight into the world of Damascene interior decoration and the tastes of the owner-builders of this period.
This paper focuses on the original surface appearance of these rooms, including other commonly-used materials and decoration techniques such as opus sectile with mother of pearl inlays, coloured plaster and stone powder pastework, mural paintings, polchrome stone reliefs, tiles, and stained glass windows. The author will also present research findings and conservation treatment results for a number of interiors in privately-owned houses in Damascus. These successful projects, carried out in collaboration with the Syrian conservator Shadi Khalil, have revived magnificent interiors in some of the most important private residences in Damascus, such as Bayt Mujalled, as well as those in smaller houses that bear wonderfully adorned 'ajami interiors. Finally, the author will present her ongoing work with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which in 2010 began a large conservation and rehabillitation project of three important houses in the Old City of Damascus: Bayt Siba'i, Bayt Nizam and Bayt Hassan al-Quwatli. During the past 15 months, this work has focused on the Grape Room of Bayt Nizam, considered one of the most significant and valuable Damascene interiors, and its conservation has revealed unexpected details that have remained hidden for more than 100 years.