Strolling Isfahan: Masters, Merchants and Monarchs

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MA History of Art Special Option

Strolling Isfahan: Masters, Merchants and Monarchs

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Nashmi the Archer, signed by Riza ‘Abbasi (c. 1560/70-1635) and dated 25 February 1622. Isfahan, Safavid period. Ink, colour and gold on paper, 7 1/2 x 3 15/16 in. (19 x 10 cm). Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller 1960.197 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Strolling Isfahan offers a conceptual ‘walk’ in the city through interdisciplinary investigations into the arts, material culture, and built environment of seventeenth-century city in central Iran. We focus on the artists, architects, patrons, monarchs and merchants who made Isfahan one of the most vital cities in early modern Eurasia, and look at the city as a ‘happening’, a historical site activated by the sensory experiences of art, architecture and urban spaces. Our sources of study and research are diverse in nature ranging from historical and scientific treatises, to guild documents and manuals of craft, poetry and epigraphy, decrees and memoirs, treatises on painting, calligraphy and the culinary arts, as well as artist/poet biographies. Our case studies on things—portable objects and built environment, quotidian or luxury, public or royal, guide us through interdisciplinary investigations.

We are as interested in this course to learn about the language of style and of technologies as about complex intersections of the making and the writing, the practices that elucidate dominant theories of ‘art’ and of ‘taste’, and of the meaning of being an Isfahani cosmopole, a self-conscious urbanity that imbues all the arts and practices of life in Isfahan. The course is furthermore integrated into a larger interest in early modern urbanity with shared teaching and field trips with other MA Special Options where we come together to consider such themes as mobility, knowledge formation, economies of production and consumption, issues of temporality and periodisation.

This MA Special Option ordinarily takes field trips to major collections in London and nearby but also to farther destinations in Europe. We visit public museums and libraries, auction house storage spaces, and private collections.

Knowledge of Persian is not required but commitment to devote substantial effort to learning Persian is crucial (language training courses to be arranged).


Course Leader: Dr Sussan Babaie

Go to the MA History of Art Course Overview

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