Through the Looking Glass of the Orient

Color, Geometry and the Kaleidoscope

Keywords: color, kaleidoscope, ornament, architecture, Alhambra


Traditionally related to concepts of luxury, fancy, and uncontrolled sensuality, color has in Western culture long been considered an unsteady component. On the contrary, and as often noted by travelers, Eastern cultures frequently demonstrate a particular talent for the harmony of color and ornament. In the nineteenth century, a number of architects and artists tried to rationalize the properties and use of color, ornament, and the Islamic arts in various ways, relating them to contemporary experiments in optics. This article examines the relationship between color theory, Islamic arts, and architecture, taking as a starting point the invention of the kaleidoscope by David Brewster and its relationship to Nasrid ornament. It then considers how Islamic arts and color theory dialogued in the work of British architect and decorator Owen Jones and Tuscan amateur architect Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona. 


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Author Biography

Ariane Varela Braga, University of Milan

Ariane Varela Braga is a historian of art and architecture. She is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Milan. In 2021, she was a Chastel Fellow at the French Academy and a Fellow at the Bibliotheca Herziana in Rome, where she worked on a book manuscript titled “Crafting the Moresco: Orientalism, Architecture and Material Culture in 19th and Early 20th-Century Italy” (Habitation project, University of Zurich). Her research is located at the intersections between visual and material culture, and architecture and cultural history in the late modern period. Her first book was about Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament (Campisano, 2017). She has published volumes and articles on the history and theory of decorative arts and architecture, polychrome marble, and the European appropriation of non-Western art, and curated exhibitions on nineteenth-century art and architecture, as well as on contemporary art. 

How to Cite
Varela Braga, A. (2022). Through the Looking Glass of the Orient: Color, Geometry and the Kaleidoscope. Manazir Journal, 3, 78–92.