Soersha Dyon

History of Design

Giovanni Antonio Tagliente, Arabesque Print from the Esemplario Nuovo, Printed in Venice, 1531

Woodblock print

Title of Dissertation: ‘foliage in the most exquisite Turkish style’: The arabesque in Italy, 1470–1570

My work is centred on the beginning of the Italian use of arabesque ornament in the late fifteenth century. The arabesque is one of the main ornamental motifs of the European decorative arts, with a popularity that continued from the Renaissance through to the eighteenth century. Studied in the margins of ornamental history and relegated to a footnote in the history of cultural transfer within the Mediterranean during the early modern period, the arabesque is nevertheless an intrinsic part of Italian and European decorative arts. A critical analysis of the historiography on the motif highlights that the arabesque suffers both from being studied ahistorically – as is the case with most ornament – but also from the lack of critical discourse on concepts such as exoticism. This dissertation therefore examines the origin of the motif within the Middle East, before studying both its arrival in Italy and its mediation by objects and prints. The study of lace and embroidery pattern books is intrinsic to understanding the fashion for the motif in the 1530s. This does not however elucidate why it became so successful. To question the reliance on exoticism by the literature, the relationship of Italy with the Middle East and the importation of metalwork from the Levant was examined in detail. This pointed to a complex understanding of materials and their social impact which can be used in tandem with a fascination for the Middle East to understand the inception of the arabesque in Italy in the late fifteenth century.

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Courtesy of the National Arts Library



BA, History of Art and French, Trinity College, Dublin, 2009


Internship, Victoria and Albert Museum – European Galleries, London, 2011–12; Column co-editor, Un-Making Things, London, 2011–12; Gallery assistant, Gallerie Carlos Cardenas, Paris, 2009–10


Montjoie Prize, Royal College of Art, 2011