ARTH 521
Islam and the Image in Indian Painting, c.1450-c.1750 Spring 2020
Division I

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This seminar will explore Indian painting made for Muslim patrons from the medieval period to the early modern era. The course considers how paintings produced for an elite Indo-Muslim audience can be situated within the frameworks of “Islamic art,” a loaded historiographical term that has been questioned in recent times. The seminar will also address some of the major problems that continue to haunt Indian art scholarship. For most of its history, the academic study of Indian painting has seldom considered contemporaneous literary voices that shed light on the motivations behind artworks. Furthermore, the historiography, deeply entrenched in its colonial and orientalist roots, has largely isolated images from their supporting texts-a curious oversight in light of the fact that miniature painting is primarily an art of the book. These biases have affected the way museums have collected, displayed and interpreted miniature paintings. Western museums continue to place paintings made for books and albums in their “South Asian” collections while textual manuscripts and calligraphic specimens made for the same Muslim audiences-even at times bound in the same albums-are categorized as “Islamic art.” What does this isolation of text from image imply about prevailing views of Islamic art? In order to understand the various intended functions of miniature painting and its possible role as an “Islamic” art, the seminar will explore ways to conceptually reintegrate images and texts belonging to key manuscripts and albums that were dispersed during the colonial and post-colonial periods. To better understand the cultural, historical and religious context surrounding artworks students will read primary literature ranging from autobiography to devotional poetry, often written by the very patrons and subjects of the paintings to be discussed.
The Class: Type: Seminar
Limit: none
Expected: 12
Class#: 3969
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, writing assignments
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: MA students, then advanced undergraduates
Distributions: Division I

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