Worlds writ small: four studies on miniature architectural forms in the medieval Middle East
Graves, Margaret Susanna
Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Edinburgh, November 26 (2010)
While academic discussion of ornament within medieval Islamic art has laboured much over the codification and meaning of certain forms, there has been relatively little research to date on the visual and iconographic function of architecture as ornament in this context. Those few authors that have dealt with this issue have focused overwhelmingly on two-dimensional architectural representations, largely ignoring the considerable body of portable objects from the medieval Middle East that imitate architecture through three-dimensional forms, whether in a mimetically coherent fashion or in a more elliptical or reconfigured manner. This thesis proposes, first and foremost, that there is significant cultural meaning inherent in the use of architecture as an inspiration for the non-essential formal qualities of portable objects from the medieval Islamic world. Through iconographic analysis of the relationships that such objects form with architecture, an understanding of both full-size architecture and its miniature incarnations in the medieval urban context is advanced within the thesis. To maximise the intellectual scope of the study whilst still enabling an in-depth treatment of the material, four discrete studies of different object groups are presented. All of these are thought to date from approximately 1000 to 1350 CE, and to come from the core Middle Eastern territories of Persia, Syria and Egypt.
The first chapter examines the glazed ceramic ‘house models’ believed to originate in late or post-Seljuq Persia. The second discusses six-sided ceramic tables from the same milieu, and more numerous related tables produced in Syria during the same period. In the third chapter carved marble jar stands from Cairo, apparently produced from the twelfth century onwards, are analysed. The final chapter, on metalwork, broadens its approach to encompass two very different strains of production: inkwells from Khurasan and incense burners from the breadth of the Middle East. Because much of the thesis focuses on material that has been dramatically understudied, it performs the primary action of compiling examples of each of the object types under study. Though this information is presented as a catalogue vi sommaire, this component of the thesis is not regarded as an end in itself. The major tasks of the thesis are the identification of the architectural tropes that are being evoked within each object group, analysis of the manner in which those forms have been modified to suit the miniature context of the objects, and the location of meaning within such diminutive evocations of architectural form. Through comparisons with other objects, full-size architecture, two-dimensional representations of architecture and historical texts, the thesis moves discourse on this type of motif in Islamic art beyond the traditional and sometimes superficial discussion of ‘ornament’, re-setting architectural iconography within larger contexts of urbanisation and city culture of the medieval Islamic world.