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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

The Sasanians

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Heraclius

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Emperor Heraclius (ca. 575–641) came to power in 610 after instigating an overthrow of the reputedly tyrannical Emperor Phokas. Entering Constantinople, so the story goes, Heraclius captured Phocas and demanded: "Is this how you have ruled, wretch?" The belittled emperor replied, "And will you rule better?"

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Loew's Wonder Theaters

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Commerce

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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between commercial activity and cultural exchange.1 The movement of goods and people along trade networks often superseded political impasses between dynasties and empires.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Special Events

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Join us for two special events planned in conjunction with the exhibition, Friday, May 11, and Friday, June 15.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Great Mosque of Damascus

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In an address to the citizens of Damascus, the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I (r. 705–715) proclaimed: "Inhabitants of Damascus, four things give you a marked superiority over the rest of the world: your climate, your water, your fruits, and your baths. To these I wanted to add a fifth: this mosque."

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Symeon Stylites the Younger (521–562)

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012

At the age of seven, Symeon Stylites the Younger expressed his religious fervor by ascending a pillar (stylos). In 541 he moved to a pillar located at a site called the Wondrous Mountain, eleven miles west of Antioch, Syria. Ascetic monks like Symeon, known as "stylites," resided on the top of tall pillars—where they were exposed to rain, snow, and wind—as a way to disengage from the sinful world.1 The men attracted a number of pilgrims, as evidenced by several tokens featuring images of stylites.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Approaching the Qur’an by Michael Sells

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Jewelry

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Khirbat al-Mafjar

Betsy Williams, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

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.

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About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.