Georgy Bittar 1840-1935
Wooden mosaic is to be found everywhere in Damascus, in countless variations it adorns caskets, furniture, game boards or picture frames.
In traditional production, thin sticks of different-colored native woods (rosewood, lemon, almond, eucalyptus, olive) with geometrical bases are assembled into bundles and glued, sometimes supplemented by mother-of-pearl. The ends of these rods then form a geometric pattern.
From the connected rods thin slices are cut and glued with the wood of the base, which is to be designed. Finally, the surfaces decorated in this way receive a layer of shellac, which is finally polished by hand.
Which woods and which compositions a craftsman uses is up to his creativity. From the numerous types of wood and basic geometrical forms can be infinitely many mosaic variants put together, completely identical patterns will hardly exist.
The technique is attributed to the monk Georgy Bittar. At the end of the 19th century, he furnished living quarters of the Ottoman sultan Abd el-Hamid with furniture he had designed in this way. Not only did he receive money and medals for it, his elaborate works were also exhibited in Vienna and Paris and rewarded with prizes. The German Kaiser Wilhelm II, known for his enthusiasm for the Orient, received such mosaic-decorated armchairs from Sultan el-Hamid as a gift.
Nevertheless, Bittar did not die as a rich man: he distributed all income from his work to the needy, Christians and Muslims alike. His art still lives on in Damascus artisan families, who pass on tradition from one generation to the next.