Dittmar’s Turkish Ornamental Cabinet

A “Furniture Style Comparison” around 1900

  • Elke Katharina Wittich Leibniz University in Hannover
Keywords: design principles, non-European objects, nineteenth-century art, textbooks, political iconography


One of the most formative narratives of the reform movements around 1900 was a departure from earlier creative principles of imitation, now defamed as an inadequate approach. Thus, artists, architects, and designers were called upon to formulate freer approaches to artistic design. Precisely because this narrative of the new and the free, which had become a myth, excluded art of the later nineteenth century—which supposedly only imitated older styles—little attention was paid to how exactly the ornamentation of Islamic art was taken up and artistically exploited in the decorative arts around 1900. Yet, what else can be classified as stylistic imitation and what as freer abstraction? After all, the geometric derivation of Islamic ornamentation offered rich material for abstractions in the sense intended by the reform movements, before it was radically, and very lastingly, banned from the discourse a short time later along with all other ornament. It will be shown that the abstraction of Islamic ornamentation around 1900 was not only triggered by the objects that were increasingly accessible in exhibitions and as holdings of ethnological or applied arts museums at the turn of the century but was already influenced by scientific research and by the textbooks with historical models as they appeared in the course of the nineteenth century. 


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Author Biography

Elke Katharina Wittich, Leibniz University in Hannover

Elke Katharina Wittich is professor and head of the Center of further scientific education at the Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. She studied history of art, archaeology, German literature and history of music at the University of Hamburg, and was a member of the “Political Iconography” postgraduate research group of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Her PhD thesis examined the knowledge about architecture and the methodology of architectural writings in the early nineteenth century by taking Schinkel and his educational training at the Berlin Building Academy as an example. She has published books and articles on the history of architecture and design as well as on the history of science in the seventeenth to twentieth century. 

How to Cite
Wittich, E. K. (2022). Dittmar’s Turkish Ornamental Cabinet: A “Furniture Style Comparison” around 1900. Manazir Journal, 3, 64–77. https://doi.org/10.36950/manazir.2021.3.5