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The Art of the Islamic World

30 Credits

Muslim societies have produced art and architecture of tremendous diversity for over 1300 years from Spain and West Africa to South-East Asia and China so that the scope of what is considered Islamic art is truly global. The arts of the Islamic world include mosques, palaces, civic centres, textiles, illustrated manuscripts, and portable objects in ceramic, metal, glass, and ivory, among others. This course introduces and charts the development of these art forms from the beginning of the Islamic era following its emergence from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century to the early modern period. Students will be equipped with the visual and discursive skills and conceptual tools necessary to begin to navigate this vast field and to understand and locate the arts of Islamic societies within world history.

Students will survey the architecture and material culture of many of the core regions of the Islamic world. The lectures will be ordered chronologically, focussing on artistic outputs under key Islamic dynasties while maintaining a critical awareness of the limitations of such dynastic periodization. The introductory lecture will outline issues such as attitudes to figural representation and the appropriateness of the term ‘Islamic art’. Subsequent lectures will focus on key periods from the beginning of the Islamic era in the 7th century up to the period of dominance by the rival early modern empires of Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey.

Key examples of architecture and material culture will be studied in order to identify the characteristic aesthetic and technical features of each period and the social agency of these objects and buildings in the lives of those making and using them. Thematic strands will thread themselves through the lectures such as aesthetic experience and spirituality, art and political ideology, diplomacy and gift giving and female patronage. The idea of Islam as a monolithic socio-cultural institution will be undermined to explore instead geographically and ethnically diverse societies that expressed their own vision of Islamic culture and society. By the end of the course students will have acquired a good understanding of significant and representative works of art and architecture of the Islamic world and an understanding of how to place them within a broader global context.