MA in the History of Art

Persian Painting and Transcultural Visuality

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Course Description

This MA Special Options focuses on Persianate painting (Persian-language cultural landscape) with a theoretically inquisitive eye fixed onto its transcultural Eurasian context of production and reception. It explores topics on artists, patrons and social collectives between two critical historical moments. One is the so-called ‘birth of Persian painting’ at the court ketabkhana (scriptorium-atelier) of the 14th-century Mongol rulers of Greater Iran where imperial taste for Chinese, Arab and European goods and ideas merged into a new Perso-Islamic cultural synthesis. The first luxury copies of illustrated manuscripts of universal histories and Persian epics exemplified this venture. The other is the so-called ‘decline of Persian painting’ in the 17th and 18th centuries when artists navigated for patronage between the imperial ketabkhana and the mercantile milieus of the cafés, bazaars and houses of Isfahan, and when European ‘influence’ is credited with the demise of the distinctive style of Persian painting. Through focused case studies of manuscripts and albums, texts and contexts, we chart Persianate painting as historical understandings of fluid inter-negotiated cultural identities, as chance encounters with the ‘foreigns’, as opportunistic assimilations, and as creative appropriations of locally novel practices to construct self-representations of empires. Two overriding and topical issues will emerge from these strategic lines of investigation: the historical location of the representational arts in Islam and the relevance of the past to the present in the visual cultures of modern Iran. Critical considerations of the historiographic and exhibition practices inform our re-examination of the art historical discourse in the field and guide student research and virtual exhibition projects.

Taking advantage of the excellent resources in London and nearby, the weekly seminars will include frequent visits to local museums and libraries especially the British Museum, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and to a selection of private collections. A visit to a major exhibition or museum collection abroad is also projected.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. Students are expected to have some knowledge of Persian or Arabic and to continue with a reading course for Persian during the MA period.