Author Archives: Laila El-Sayed

Open, Sesame! The Courtauld’s Hidden Treasures

Three months ago, I stood in front of The Courtauld Institute of Art and said the magic phrase: Open Sesame!

My heart beat got louder and louder. The little satan in my head went on: “What if you lost grip on an art object? The money you get from the Erasmus Mundus TEEME fellowship is not enough!”. The little devil laughed out loud: “NiaHaHaHaHa this is definitely the end of your career, they will kick you back to Egypt”.

I pulled myself together and put the little satan in my head on mute, and stepped into The Courtauld’s store with Dr. Alexandra Gerstein (Sacha), Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts.

My eyes opened wide to such beauty: Mamluk metal cases and dishes with challenging Arabic inscriptions, Iznik jugs and dishes decorated with flowers, beautiful Kutahya coffee cups and saucers painted with yellow tulips, Patanazzi (Italian) vases depicting stories from the Bible and Torah, amazing enamel plaque painted in grisaille, and many other breath-taking art objects.

For two weeks, I was unable to decide what to choose for my Illuminating Object!

I learned a great deal from surveying the accompanying object files and listening to Sacha’s explanation of the objects.

All objects are interesting but I fell in love with a delicate 16th-century Ottoman Iznik ceramic dish. I even call it “my dish”!

Ottoman Turkish art is also related to my PhD thesis. I am working on 17th-century Ottoman travel narrative (Evliya Çelebi’s travelogue Seyahâtnâme, The Book of Travels).

Researching the Iznik dish was great fun, but writing the labels and web text were my real challenge. I have never written for a public audience and in such a limited number of words – only 150 words for the label!

My challenge was not stressful, I received a lot of help and support. My supervisor Prof. Donna Landry (The School of English, University of Kent) revised and edited the content of my web text. Eva Bensasson, the website manager, brilliantly helped me spot the stylistic problems of my writing.It was very funny to see how long my sentences are. Finally, Sacha helped me in editing labels and the web text and they are now ready to go.

I enjoyed the team work and the friendly atmosphere around The Courtauld office. Working with a team is fun.

Laila and Sacha with Colin Lindley, measuring the dish to make a mount for it.

It was to my advantage that I was doing my internship on Wednesdays! Every Wednesday afternoon there is a tea and cake ritual in The Courtauld Gallery offices. Someone brings a delicious cake, most of them were homemade.

Ah, yummy cakes, tea, amiable conversations and friendly faces!