Betsy Williams is a graduate student at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and was the 2012 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Museum's Department of Islamic Art. Her dissertation is on precious-metal jewelry and notions of adornment in the Byzantine and early Islamic periods.
Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Although al-Walid ibn Yazid, known as al-Walid II (r. 743–744), ruled for only a year, he is nonetheless one of the most colorful Umayyad caliphs. A grandson of Abd al-Malik, builder of the Dome of the Rock, he is recorded in historical sources as a proverbial man about town. His behavior was considered so profligate that he was passed over in succession to grandfather's throne. Instead, his uncle Hisham became caliph and al-Walid retired to his desert qasr to pass his time in song and pleasure among a retinue of his favorite drinking companions.
Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Look closely at the carved stonework from the facade of Qasr al-Mshatta, and you will spot a world of griffins, peacocks, lions, and pheasants hiding in the shade of delicately rendered grape leafs. The refinement of the representations here has captivated scholars and public alike for a century, ever since it arrived in Berlin as a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid to Kaiser Wilhelm I shortly before World War I.
Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Although the Sasanian (Sasanid) empire was centered in Mesopotamia, it played a major role in religious, political, and visual culture in the Byzantine and early Islamic eastern Mediterranean. The dynasty's founding can be traced to Ardashir I (r. 224–241), who established his authority following the defeat of the Parthians. The empire's early years were marked by the emergence of key institutions and cultural developments that would shape Sasanian culture for several centuries.
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012
For a while now I've been obsessed with a group of buildings in the New York City area known as "Wonder Theaters." Constructed in the waning years of the roaring 1920s, they embody the experience of the silver screen in their fantastical ornamental mash-ups, many of which incorporate Byzantine and Islamic motifs.
Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012
One of the core themes of the exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition and its catalogue is the close relationship between commercial activity and cultural exchange.1 The movement of goods and people along trade networks often superseded political impasses between dynasties and empires.
Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Although the Qur'an shares much with the Judeo-Christian traditions of the Torah and the Old and New Testaments, it is often difficult for non-Muslim readers to understand the text's repeated formulations and unique approach to narrative. Michael Sells's book Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations seeks to assist the unfamiliar by emphasizing the Qur'an's literary qualities.
Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Few objects surviving from the Byzantine and early Islamic periods are as instantly relatable to modern sensibilities as examples of jewelry.1 They fascinate us not only for their beauty and preciousness, but also for the sense of immediacy they create as objects that were worn on medieval bodies.
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Few surviving Umayyad palaces present as much evidence for the types of decoration popular among the period's elite as does Khirbat al-Mafjar, a desert qusur, or fortified palace complex.
Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Most surveys of Islamic art proceed chronologically or geographically to synthesize several centuries of material covering a region stretching from Spain to Afghanistan. Oleg Grabar's book, The Formation of Islamic Art, instead focuses thematically on the earliest centuries of Islam.
Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Umayyad qusur, or desert "palaces," are known for their variety of architectural styles and decoration. One example, Qusayr 'Amra, is well known on both counts.