Early Islamic Art

One of the first efforts in my course on Islamic art and architecture is to convince the students that figurative art is not prohibited in Islam. I make them chant “at some times, in some regions, and in some contexts figurative art was prohibited.” Maybe it sinks in.

One of the most luscious examples of early wall painting has recently been restored – the walls and ceilings of a fortress-palace from the early 8th century, Qusayr’Amra. Go look!

What’s Hardball in the museum world?

Well, maybe the Turkish government has decided that refusing to loan art works to American and European museums will count.

The Met is staging a show in 2016 on the Seljuk empire (before the Ottomans, but it’s more complicated than the word predecessors sums up).

Without loans from Turkey, and with Iranian loans unlikely unless there is a sudden improvement in relations between the US and Iran, the Met will have to rely on major loans from British and European institutions instead.


The Met’s exhibition could include, scholars suggest, dragon door-knockers from Berlin, some of the earliest Islamic carpets in existence from Copenhagen, works from the great pottery reserves of the British Museum, and stone and figural carving from the Met’s own strong collections. Some of the finest Seljuk Qu’rans are also in Western collections.


But Turkish loans could have ranged from manuscripts from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul and trophy items, such as an extraordinary steel mirror with gold inlay also housed there, to reliefs from the walls of Konya, the Seljuks’ historic capital in Anatolia.


The article linked above also discusses the refusal of the Turkish government to make any loans to a major show at the British Museum a few years ago, so this is an ongoing strategy to get the museum world to engage in negotiations over looted or stolen artworks in their collections.


Argh – course prep

File under: Things I should have done online from Chattanooga in June.

I got so busy this mid-summer that I let something slide.

A book about the Elgin Marbles I wanted for my First Year Seminar is out of print (of course), but should be fairly easy to reconstruct with PDFs of articles. After all, it started as a Christopher Hitchens screed somewhere.

But there turns out to be an oversupply of good essays about the Elgin Marbles – and I can’t decide!

Back from Milano with a few hundred pictures to sort

We had three fun-filled days in Milano and got back last night around 9 pm. I’m still tired!

Probably the best thing for me was the contemporary art fair – MiArt. But I have been to Milan before, so I was mainly revisiting (though I spent more time in San Lorenzo than before – pictures to follow!).

Worth the price of admission . . .

I went to an exhibition on Friday that I won’t bother to take the class to see. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. Looking at this ivory up close (and taking a photo!)  was worth the price of admission for me, though.Symmachus Diptych, British Museum

An apotheosis – perhaps the apotheosis of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, late 4th/early 5th C. British Museum, London. M&ME 1857,10-13,1. 30.1×11.3 cm. Really something to see. Symmachus was one of the last great pagans – an opponent of Ambrose and Theodosius. The organizers of the show wanted to suggest that it was an emperor – but at the very least it’s a deeply nostalgic pagan senator recalling imperial funerals and apotheoses – or just apotheosizing himself. Hence, Symmachus.

The Things People Find, Antiques Roadshow edition

A priest in England picked up an old portrait in an antique store for £400. He took it to a Roadshow where someone suspected it might be a Van Dyke. Lots of study later and it is – and worth about £400,000. He’s going to sell it and buy bells. My parents and I were watching the PBS of Roadshow last night – someone had a student work by Chuck Close. They told her at auction it might go for $100,000. So there are treasures out there!

Miami’s new museum

I hate linking to things at the Wall Street Journal – articles appear and disappear from behind the pay-wall for reasons I never understand – but Google News found this for me: Pérez Art Museum Miami: Where the Art Will (Hopefully) Come Later. Go read it quick, before it goes away!

Build it, and they will give. Or promise to give. Or lend for the long term. Or something. Those seem to be the operating hopes at the just-opened Pérez Art Museum Miami, ensconced in a building, designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, that gracefully takes advantage of the view and the climate of Biscayne Bay.

The situation is odd, to say the least. PAMM—a museum of modern and contemporary art in the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the country, with five million inhabitants—makes its debut with a paltry collection: only about 1,800 works of art, almost 300 of those just recently bestowed on it from a single private collection. There’s scarcely a showstopper in the trove. By comparison, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (only the fifth-largest city in Texas) has about 2,600 objects, with some instructively important works by the likes of Francis Bacon, Vija Celmins and Martin Puryear among them. Or consider the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has more than 10,000 works, including just about the snappiest gathering of recent sculpture anywhere.

The story gets worse.


Teaching Hagia Sophia today!

Hagia Sophia - me by Michael Tinkler
Hagia Sophia – me, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

That’s your loyal, if lately somewhat irregular, author leaning against a column at the Great Church in 2009.
This really is one of the highlights of any semester for me – the building is such a perfect contrast to the Pantheon, which we studied just a few weeks ago. They exemplify very different approaches to architecture – both their structural systems and their handling of space. We really don’t know what the Pantheon was for, but Hagia Sophia is a really interesting synthesis of basilica and rotunda. I think the Great Church may have been the perfect vessel for the imperial liturgy – goodness knows it worked for 900 years. I can even understand it working as a preaching space, something I’m never so convinced about for basilicas of a similar scale before artificial amplification.

George Herbert + Ralph Vaughan Williams + the Order of Preachers = ?

George Herbert + Ralph Vaughan Williams + the Order of Preachers = this!

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

from Herbert’s “The Call,” published in The Temple. Set by Vaughan Williams in 1911.

via Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P.