Wall and Ceiling Paintings in Notable Palestinian Mansions was part of Dr. Sharif Sharif-Safadi’s Ph.D. research and published in a book by Riwaq in 2008. This research sought to fill the gap in the knowledge about residential architecture in Palestine during the late Ottoman period. The aim of the research was to understand the phenomenon of the wall and ceiling paintings that decorated the houses of the elite in Palestine between the second half of the nineteenth century and the end of the Ottoman Empire. It examines the nature of these paintings and the political, social, economic and cultural setting that they reflect. These paintings are amongst the most prominent features of the residential culture that flourished throughout the Ottoman Empire during this period, when the amount of financial resources devoted to their creation and embellishment was unprecedented.
Originally a European invention, wall and ceiling paintings were introduced into the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century by the Sultans. Thence, their use spread to the Istanbul and provincial elite, including in Palestine. These wall and ceiling paintings constitute visual symbols and a historical text, which evince the cultural, social, economic and political links woven between Palestine and Istanbul and Europe across a variety of fields. Through their use of such paintings, the elite sought to parade their social status and affluence and highlight the fact that they were modern Ottoman citizens living in similar style and fashion to their compeers in Istanbul and Europe. For example, a central topic in the social discourse in Palestine during the years 1856-1917 (and therefore also a central subject matter in the paintings) was that of travel across the seas and emigration to Europe and the Americas. Upon returning, the migrants brought back with them new ideas and experiences of foreign cultures and unfamiliar worlds that they were most eager to exhibit on their walls. These new architectural decorations were painted on the walls, ceilings and friezes in both private and public areas of the residences in order to flaunt their owners’ wealth, status and worldview.
- Excerpts from RIWAQ & Dr. Sharif Sharif-Safadi
Issa Freij is a Palestinian photographer and film director based in Jerusalem.
Sharid Sharif-Safadi is a Palestinian archaeologist and expert on cultural heritage in his hometown of Nazareth.