MA History of Art

Strolling Isfahan: Masters, Merchants and Monarchs

Professor Sussan Babaie

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. We 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 the analytical methods that explore Trans-asias and early modern urbanity. As part of the coursework, students join the Beijing and Beyond cohort to produce publishable work for Things That Talk.

Study trips are part of our plan. Assuming we no longer face pandemic-related restrictions, we visit the Royal Collection at Windsor, the auction houses in London, and museums such as the V&A, BM, and the Wallace Collection among others. Circumstances permitting, we will attempt to take a field trip to one of the major collections of Islamic arts in Europe (Copenhagen, Lisbon, or Paris).  

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

Please note: site visits in the UK and further afield are subject to Covid-19 guidelines.

Course Leader: Professor Sussan Babaie

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Please note: whilst many Special Options will include site visits within the UK and further afield, these are subject to confirmation.

Accepting late applications MA History of Art

Special Options 2023/24

Please note: Special Options vary from year to year and are subject to demand. The Courtauld reserves the right to amend or withdraw the options if necessary, and will always directly inform applicants of any changes.