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Lesson Plan: Domestic Life in Eighteenth-Century Damascus

A room from Damascus decorated with gilded dark wood paneling, low dark red velvet covered cushions, and a red and white stone floor

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The Damascus Room
Dated a.h. 1119 / a.d. 1707
Syria, Damascus
Wood (poplar) with gesso relief, gold and tin leaf, glazes and paint; wood (cypress, poplar, and mulberry), mother-of-pearl, marble and other stones, stucco with glass, plaster ceramic tiles, iron, brass
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970 (1970.170)

Collection Area: Islamic Art
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Grades: Middle School, High School
Topic/Theme: Identity


Students will be able to:
  • understand how a reception room from the house of an affluent family in eighteenth-century Damascus reflects the tastes, interests, and life of the urban elite in a provincial city of the Ottoman empire; and
  • recognize ways interiors from different time periods and places (including their own) reflect the personal tastes, interests, and values of their inhabitants.

National Learning Standards

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

World History
NSS-WH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450–1770

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Questions for Viewing

  • What are some ways your family entertains guests when they visit your home? What types of activities might take place in a room like this? How is this room, reflective of life in eighteenth-century Damascus, similar to or different from the place you use to entertain guests?
  • As a prosperous commercial center and hub of Islamic scholarship and worship, Damascus attracted merchants, scholars, and pilgrims from all over the world. What objects or details in this room reflect these international influences? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • Large, luxurious residences containing rooms like this stood alongside more humble dwellings, bathhouses, mausoleums, schools, and places of worship on a grid of bustling streets in Ottoman Damascus. Watch the video on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History page simulating the path used to enter such a home. What advantages might this design offer? Why might someone create such a plain exterior for such an elegant home?
  • Rooms often convey information about the tastes, interests, and values of their inhabitants. What might you infer about the owner of a room such as this?


Activity Setting: Classroom or Museum
Materials: Computer with Internet access ideal, but not required. For the alternative activity, you will also need paper, pencils, markers, poster board, magazines, glue, and fabric swatches.
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

Imagine someone you never met took a tour of your home. What might they infer about your tastes, interests, hobbies, personality, etc.? Why?

Explore ways the materials, ornamentation, layout, and furnishings employed in rooms from different places and moments in history (see Spaces in the Museum Related to this Lesson) reflect the tastes, interests, and values of their times. Compare your inferences with the information provided on this website; to learn more about the contents of each room select images of the gallery highlights at the bottom of each web page.

Alternate Activity

Subject Area: Visual Arts
Duration: Approximately 120 minutes

Design an entertainment room for a classmate that supports his or her tastes and lifestyle.

  1. Interview a classmate to learn more about their interests, hobbies, and tastes; you will be designing an entertainment room to meet their needs. Work with your "client" to identify the various functions and activities the space will support and the message they hope to convey to their guests through the design. Make sure that you have a clear picture of their priorities before you end the meeting.
  2. Develop three sketches for the floor plan and present them to your client. Discuss how each design would meet their needs. You will need final approval from the client to proceed with one of the designs; this may require making a few revisions on the spot.
  3. Once the client approves your plan, consider how you might furnish and decorate the room based on the information you gathered during your initial meeting. Use magazines, newspapers, websites, and other such sources to gather inspiration for the furniture, wall colors, lighting, and other decoration. Create a presentation board for your client including a sketch or collage of the furnished interior, any photos or visuals that inspired your design, and fabric swatches.
  4. Present your design to the client. Listen closely to his or her feedback and revise as necessary.
  5. Share the final design with your class along with a profile of your client and their needs.


Daskalakis Mathews, Annie-Christine. "A Room of 'Splendor and Generosity' from Ottoman Damascus." Metropolitan Museum Journal 32 (1997), pp. 111–39.

Ekhtiar, Maryam D., and Claire Moore, eds. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Kenney, Ellen. "The Damascus Room." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Spaces in the Museum Related to this Lesson

Hôtel de Varengeville Room, French Decorative Arts

Rococo Revival Parlor, The American Wing

Author: Claire Moore, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Date: 2012

The Damascus Room

After reading Unit Six, Chapter Two, you will be able to understand the tastes, interests, and life of the urban elite in a provincial city of the Ottoman empire.