research forum visiting professor seminar



Art, Experience and Displaced Identities: Getting to the Heart of Why the Mughals Embraced European Art

Friday, 10 December 2010

14.00 - 16.00, Research Forum South Room

madonna and child in a palace with animals
Madonna, Basawan, c. 1590. Courtesy San Diego Museum of Art

Speaker(s): Ursula Weekes (independent scholar)

Ticket/entry details: Open to postgraduate students and history of art teaching staff

Organised by: Professor Caroline Arscott

Mughal artists made profound and ongoing responses to European art during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Moving beyond traditional interpretations of Mughal interest in European naturalism, perspective and the depiction of light, important though these were, Ursula Weekes shall suggest that a key reason for this was that Mughal artists encountered new and diverse concepts of images as multi-functional objects, which, through a process of creative assimilation, could increase the experiential impact and dynamic functions of their own art. These interests were already present in Mughal literary culture, and thus we shall discuss the Persian Sufi Romance Husn u Dil by Al Fattahi as an excellent example of how poetic literature can contribute to our understanding of Mughal perceptions of art and experience.

The second part of this seminar explores Mughal interpretations of diverse European images of the Madonna, allegorical and classical female figures. By ignoring European iconographic imperatives, Mughal artists used the concept of the dominant female in the European tradition to serve, at various levels, as displaced visual metaphors for ideas of the feminine already deeply embedded in the Indo-Islamic social, literary and religious traditions that suffused Mughal Court life. Ursula Weekes will explore these displaced identities in two major contexts. First, as a means to articulate messages about the status and significance of real Mughal women, in an environment where actual women were seldom portrayed in art; and secondly, as visual explorations of a distinctly Sufic vision of the Divine Feminine in Islam.

Reading for the seminar:


pdf icon  'Husn u Dil' (Beauty and Heart) by Al Fattahi

Ursula Weekes is Research Forum Visiting Professor at The Courtauld in the academic year 2010-11. She was formerly Supervisor of the Print Room at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. She gained her PhD in 2002 from The Courtauld Institute of Art (published as 'Early Engravers and their Public' by Brepols/Harvey Miller, 2004). From 2004 to 2010 she was based in Delhi as a Postdoctoral Commonwealth Fellow at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, and she also taught on Mughal and Renaissance art for the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is now in London, completing her book on 'The Great Mughals and the Art of Europe'.


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