What does arab painting mean
What does arab painting mean
There will be few references to later centuries, as there is an unwritten but on the whole justified scholarly agreement that the later illustrated manuscripts of the Maqamat in Manchester and Sanaa, sundry examples of scientific or medical illustrated books, the perennial ajaib, and a few qisas alanbiya’ of later times are clearly derivative and qualitatively inferior to the works of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
It is altogether also regrettable that the Internet does not recognize anything significant written on the subject since 1962 (and that includes quite a few major scholarly achievements which have not been caught by the medium’s antennas) but it is also a testimony to the breadth and scope of Ettinghausen’s book that, forty years later, it still dominates our definition of the field. In this book the private secular and public religious art of the Umayyads, the illuminations of the Qur’an, the paintings of the Cappella Palatina, or the lustre ceramics from Fatimid times are all seen as examples of Arab’ painting.
There were Iraqi stamps of the celebrated camels from the 1237 Maqamat manuscript after the appearance of Ettinghausen’s book, and the name of al-Wasiti was used as a flagship to identify contemporary artistic efforts and groups of artists. He became a major cult figure and a life size statue of him was made in Baghdad by the recently deceased Iraqi sculptor Isma’il Fattah al-Turk, even though the 1237 manuscript in Paris, the only one which shows al-Wasiti’s name in its colophon, had never been published in its entirety until 2004.
And to justify this role in the Darwinian scheme of so much of the History of Art, we have, among a few other examples, a perfect ‘missing Link’ (one of Richard Ettinghausen’s favourite terms) in the codicologically confused Manafi‘ al-hayawan of the Morgan Library in New York. It has the right date (1297—8 or 1299—1300).
While the structure of individual illustrations may often reflect standard derivative procedures discussed in Weitzmann’s books, the relationship between secular manuscripts is quite different from whatever prevailed in scriptoria attached to ecclesiastical organizations.
In short, a term which may have made some sense within the cultural setting of Western Europe and of Cairo in the second half of the nineteenth century has become absurd within the historiography of the late twentieth century.
The main building involved, the Mustansiriyya, was celebrated all over the Muslim world and nothing requires that a visual reference to it identifies the place of a manuscript’s composition. One manuscript associated with Baghdad was completed in 1280.
Out of 45 illustrated manuscripts between 1200 and 1400 in Ettinghausen’s book and Holter’s list, specific dates are provided in 23, slightly over half. Dioscorides manuscript in Paris (arabe 2849) dated 1219 which was assembled for an isfahsalar, a rather common title for a middling official, with the interesting name of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub.
But who would have been these princes? Why are they anonymous, hardly a characteristic of the ruling establishment anywhere? The answer may well be that these frontispieces did not refer to the ruling military or feudal class, but were simply visual signs identifying opulence and luxury, proclaiming the expensive cost of a manuscript. I was much taken many decades ago by Bishr Fares’ attempts to find iconographic specificity in so many frontispieces to the Kitab al-agham. There is no obvious answer and so far no one has been able, to my knowledge, to identify such details in the composition as could explain them. The same argument applies to the rich frontispiece of the Vienna Kitab al-diryaq, whose unique features beg for a concrete identification of personages, symbols, or events. But the uniqueness of its combination of features and the absence of attendant written information make it unlikely that a stroke of intellectual luck or brilliance will ever uncover the exact meaning of these features.