As indicated by its title, this festschrift is a tribute to Renata Holod by eleven of her loyal former PhD students. Holod is currently a professor and curator in the Near East Section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She was offered a teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, the year that she completed her PhD in Harvard. The book begins with a thoughtful preface by the editor, David J. Roxburgh (Harvard), on Renata’s biography and how she developed into a widely acknowledged name in the field of Islamic art and architecture. Starting with her early years in Toronto to which she—as an infant—emigrated with her family from Ukraine, the preface casts light on Renata’s eventful career, from studying Islam at the University of Toronto to her latest archaeological and ethno-historical multi-year survey project on the island of Jerba in Tunisia (volume 2 of the published findings, of which she is the lead author, is still in preparation; volume 1 appeared in 2009). Renata’s expansive expertise covers such areas as Islamic material, visual and object cultures. She is particularly renowned for her remarkable ability to bring forward new perspectives and methodologies, and instil them into students and colleagues. The use of light technology, e.g. UV fluorescence examination and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, in archaeological research is a good example (pp. 66–87). The book reflects the honouree’s pervasive interests and approaches: papers on medieval as well as modern portable arts, arts of the book, painting, photography and architecture, attest to the universality, originality and effectiveness of the school of research she founded at Penn. The authors’ contributions are grouped geographically rather than chronologically, investigating monuments and relics from al-Andalus, the Maghrib, Iran, Central Asia and India. Taken together, the essays appropriately reflect a good part of Renata’s remarkable erudition and academic involvements. They also evidence her ability to deal with the past in a way that is as methodical as revolutionary—a feature that contributed to stretching the technical as well as temporal boundaries of the field. The first essay by D. Fairchild Ruggles (PhD, 1991) investigates the formal evolution of the architecture of the Banū Naṣr, the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Spain and who ruled the Emirate of Granada from 629/1232 to 897/1492. Ruggles tries to follow a strand of enquiry different from that based on the classical Arabic sources (as well as perspectives). He takes as his departure point the question of how such Islamic monuments were seen by local Spaniards and visitors from the Occident in modern times (i.e. the nineteenth century onwards), his case study being Andalusia’s architectural masterpeice, Alhambra. Known in Arabic as Qalʿat al-Ḥamrāʾ, this supreme Islamic complex welcomes more than two million tourists each year, of whom half are from Spain (p. 3). Ruggles explores the way this seminal Islamic monument is envisaged by the relevant works and activities, e.g. visits, descriptions, conservation. In this respect, the essay brings together the two eminent cultures of the east and the west, to make a threshold to any adequate grasp of the modern significance of this historic ensemble. In light of Islam’s well-known reluctance to make representations of humans and animals, some of the Muslim artists and patrons resorted to symbolic use of non-figural motifs to convey figural themes. In this connection, Cynthia Robinson revisits, in the next essay, the question of how to interpret the graceful non-figural ornaments of the pierced-stucco dome of the Great Mosque of Tlemcen, Algeria (530/1136), which—as she maintains—must have been ‘a novelty at the moment of its construction’ (p. 44). She provides a more confident reading of the potential mystical and Sufi implications of this piece of art—an approach she first developed at Pennsylvania in her PhD (1995) thesis, ‘Palace Architecture and Ornament in the “Courtly” Discourse of the Mulūk al-Ṭawāʾif: Metaphor and Utopia’. In the following essay, María Judith Feliciano (PhD, 2004) attempts to see how the Andalusian and cross-Mediterranean fabrics in the Iberian Peninsula in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were traded and utilized in the early Middle Ages. Attempting to steer clear of clichéd as well as subjective cultural assessments, Feliciano goes on to contextualize the use of luxury textiles in medieval Castile and Catalonia and contrast the verdict with the prevalent formulaic religio-ethnic categorization of life patterns (i.e. Islamic vs. Christian). The study challenges the exclusive use of such labels as Islamic, Moorish, Andalusi to designate opulent textiles found in medieval Iberian contexts. The next essay is by a more recent student of Renata Holod, Leslee Katrina Michelsen (PhD, 2011) and Johanna Olafsdotter, a conservator at the Doha Museum of Islamic Art. Their focus is an object from the Islamic East, a mīnāʾī bowl in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Dated to the period between the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, this magnificent artefact presents a clearly peculiar decorative programme. The two scholars harness art history, archaeology, and conservation science to examine the bowl analytically. The study shows that, thanks to astonishing progress in scientific analysis and imaging technologies, scholars can now have a more nuanced understanding of the materials and fabrication methods of antique art pieces. Such tools can further decode the complexities of later restoration techniques and/or historical repairs and interventions. With a clear proclivity to study the medieval funerary architecture of the Muslim Middle East, Stephennie Mulder (PhD, 2008) takes on the meaning of the miḥrāb image in three medieval Syrian shrines: the cenotaph of Khālid b. al-Walīd in Ḥomṣ; Mashhad al-Muḥassin (al-Siqṭ) and Mashhad al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī, both in Aleppo. She also studies the subordinate calligraphies as well as ornamentations of the constituents of the three shrines—portable and fixed. While approaching the enigmatic question of symbolism in Islamic art, Mulder eschews the conventional interpretations based on iconographic and semiotic readings. Her contention is that the active quality of the ornaments and epigraphy of the three thirteenth and fourteenth-century shrines in question qualifies them to ‘communicate multiple meanings and accommodate varied associations’ (p. 108). Three essays in this volume are dedicated to South Asian art and architecture. In the first, Pushkar Sohoni (PhD, 2010) studies five mosques built under the Niẓām Shāhs who ruled Ahmednagar, India, and its environs between 1490 and 1636. These are: the Soneri Mosque, the Damdi Mosque, the Kali (Burud) Mosque, the Kamani Mosque and the Qasim Khan Mosque. Sohoni’s contribution presents detailed reconstructions of the mosques based on a careful reading of the relevant literary sources. Special attention is paid to aspects of typology, distribution, royal patronage, relation to patterns of settlement and links with the Safavids. In the second essay, Alison Mackenzie Shah (PhD, 2004) offers insights into how Islamic cultural heritage, represented in ‘the special charisma’ of saints, was used by modern political consortia to negotiate processes of social change and political relationships in Hyderabad. In particular, she shows how medieval Islamic culture, its devotional practices and visual realizations, i.e., shrine complexes, were exploited by the late-nineteenth century metropolitan figures of Hyderabad to defend their positions in the discussions regarding the transition from pre-modern to modern institutions and organizational patterns in South Asia. In this study, Shah deploys advanced techniques in urban mapping and analytical drawing to investigate the social history of Hyderabad. Turning from architecture to arts applied on paper, Yael Rice (PhD, 2011) tries to explore the myriad of interactions that welded together traditions of painting and writing as relayed by the illustrated manuscripts and albums in the name of the Mughal emperors Akbar (r. 1556–1605) and Jahāngīr (r. 1605–27). The significance of Rice’s study does not lie only in its navigation through scribal practices and formations of artists and craftsmen in the royal ateliers, but also—and most importantly—in its scrutiny of the traditional emphasis on the contribution of painters and the inattention of other partakers in such manuscripts. The contribution of the editor, David J. Roxburgh, deals with the Turkmen arts of the book, particularly the library associated with the Qaraqoyunlu prince Pīr Budaq b. Jahānshāh b. Qarā Yūsuf (d. 1466). This essay goes beyond the relevant previous studies, which mainly focus on the evolution of painting traditions in teleological contexts (prospective and retrospective), linking the Timurids, Turkmens, and Safavids. One of the strengths of Roxburgh’s study is its assemly and examination of a large number of long-neglected manuscripts dedicated to Pīr Budaq, indicating how artistic evolutions and political transformations can properly be recorded in and/or traced by relevant objects. Based on iconographic examination as well as innovative interpretation of visual representations, Christiane Gruber (PhD, 2005), investigates the visual culture of devotion and the representational capacities of photography in modern Ottoman civilization. In particular, she studies the metaphorical techniques developed by the late Ottoman poets, theorists, Sufis and artists to represent the Prophet by a nonfigurative model known as ‘the rose of the Prophet’. In another essay on the Ottoman world of the early modern and modern periods, Nancy Micklewright (PhD, 1984) presents an unpublished sixteen-page album of Istanbul dated 1919, when the city was a spoil disputed by the Allied captors. Dealing with a classical theme in a fresh perspective, Micklewright gives insights into how the album was meant to construct themes of nostalgia, loss and longing for the irretrievable past of a city traditionally referred to as the ‘Abode of Felicity’. Thus far, Renata Holod has supervised fifty dissertations, of which six are still in progress, and it is definitely inspiring to see her honoured by some of their authors. It would have been better perhaps if the honouree’s impact on the contributors’ work were more clearly and systematically referred to, especially as most of them draw on theses she supervised. Collectively, the essays provide a substantial number of interesting approaches and advanced techniques for the study of themes in Islamic architecture, art history, anthropology, sociology and literature. With 175 figures, including photos, maps, drawings, illustrations, pictorial colophons, illuminated manuscripts—some published for the first time—the book is a lavish work which will be of interest and benefit to those involved in the medieval and modern material culture of Islam. © The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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