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Medieval Islamic Art Between Cosmic Frame and Human Decency

  • Date: November 17, 2016

Medieval Islamic Art between Cosmic Frame and Human Agency
Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago

Friday, November 4, 2016 4:00pm
Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, Room L150
800 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706 608.263.2340

Astrological and talismanic arts occupied an important place in the precarious courtly circles of the Rum Seljuks and their rivals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This is true whether we understand “arts” in reference to visually rich crafted forms, or in reference to arenas of specialized technical expertise. Scholarly attempts to interpret surviving Islamic talismans through textual sources, such as manuals with instructions for making them, have often been frustrated by a perceived mismatch between the two.  Instead, this talk approaches both objects and texts as parallel expressions within the same theoretical framework. Doing so helps us see the talismanic objects differently, and helps explain why intelligent people educated in this milieu could have expected them to work. Further, it hints at the sophistication of medieval Islamic theories relevant to visual art. The talk is drawn from a larger book project on medieval Islamic talismanic objects and theories. As art historians from many fields become increasingly interested not only in what art means, but also in what art does, talismans offer a chance to pursue the question of what art does in a manner that continues to engage with the discipline’s abiding concern with how art looks. Within this emerging conversation, medieval Islamic talismans deserve particular attention because, along with their ancient Greek and Byzantine precursors, they are historically foundational to modern understandings of the term “talisman.”