Lectures in Islamic Art

Event
14 Feb 2020, 5:30pm Nihon Room, Pembroke College, Cambridge

All students know that we are more likely to learn from a teacher who excites us, stirs our curiosity, and indeed our passion for wonder. This lecture introduces a multilingual illustrated dictionary made in sultanate India that immersed its readers in an aesthetic education through sound and wonder. The illustrated manuscript of interest is the Key of the Learned (Miftāḥ al-Fużalā, British Library Or 3299) attributed to Mandu circa 1490. Although the Key of the Learned contains quadruple the number of illustrations in comparison to Mandu’s famed Book of Delights (Ni‘matnāmah), it has received minimal scholarly attention. This study thus opens up new vistas onto sultanate book culture and has broader implications for early modern art well into the sixteenth century. The Miftāḥ al-Fużalā’s definitions encompass nearly every facet of Indo-Islamicate art history. It provides a critical vocabulary for subjects including musical instruments, textiles, metalwork, jewelry, arms and armor, and architecture.  The information transmitted by the Miftāḥ is not limited to the Persian, Hindavi, and Arabic language of the text, but also the visual knowledge depicted in paintings. This study thus argues that the Miftāḥ’s manuscript as a whole has a close relationship to the genre of the Islamicate cosmography and reveals its author’s penchant for wonder.

Vivek Gupta is completing his PhD at SOAS University of London in History of Art. His thesis, Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia (ca. 1450—1600), examines a corpus of illustrated compendia of wonders in Persian, Arabic, and vernacular Indic languages.

Image credits: British Library Or 3299, f. 161a, pearl-borer

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Event
23 May 2019, 5:30pm

Cutout papers with calligraphy often border single sheets of drawing and painting from the Safavid period, mounted on illuminated margins and often bound into an album. While some of these images are signed or can be attributed stylistically to an artist, the calligraphy and the page compositions are difficult to date with certainty. This talk will discuss the relationship between word and image in such folios and argues that with a close reading of the text and understanding its accord with the image, some hypotheses can be proposed on the time and place of its compilation. Furthermore, the possible origins of the design and compilers of such compositions will be explored

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Event
15 May 2019, 5:30pm

Portraiture in Safavid Iran

Over the course of the sixteenth century artists’ approach to portraiture evolved in Iran. Whereas few figures were depicted with individualized facial details in the first half of the century, the introduction of European prints through trade and travelers stimulated a gradual shift toward greater verisimilitude in portraiture. This illustrated talk will consider the changing pictorial style in Safavid Iran, its sources and its practitioners.

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Event
1 Feb 2019, 5:30pm Room N 7, Pembroke College, Cambridge

Some Solomonic themes in royal iconography of Islamic art have been noted, but rarely do they seem to be so obvious as in palaces excavated in Raqqa and dated to the early Abbasid period. The fragments of a very peculiar pavement with glass tiles resonate with the floor of  ‘glass like water’, which in the Qur’an characterises the palace of Solomon. The talk seeks to understand the aesthetics and semantics of such a floor, which highlighted a specific space in the sequence of formal and representational rooms. While the spectacular appearance fits a period known for innovative "arts of the fire" in architectural decoration, a wider significance of the theme, both earlier and later, may be proposed. Just as the Qur’anic passage acquires a range of interpretation in texts that comment, explain and embellish it, so the Solomonic floor may have been translated into various materials and architectural spaces in early Islamic palaces.

Colleagues and students are welcome, especially those who are interested in history of art and archaeology, Middle East, Islamic and Hebrew Studies.

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