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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam by Sidney H. Griffith

Heather Badamo, Harper-Schmidt Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Art History, University of Chicago

Posted: Friday, June 22, 2012

Walking through galleries that display Qur'ans and Muslim palatial sculpture, you may wonder what happened to the Christian communities who came to live under Islamic rule. In The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, Sidney H. Griffith goes some way toward answering this question, showing how Christians made a place for themselves in the new Islamic caliphate.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

The Dome of the Rock

Ana Botchkareva, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Posted: Friday, June 22, 2012

Originally constructed between 688 and 692 under the rule of Abd al-Malik, whom Yitzchak introduced in the previous post, the Dome of the Rock is one of the most emblematic architectural landmarks in the history of Islamic culture. On the one hand, the monument carries a unique and unifying significance for Islamic religious communities over broad temporal and geographic scopes; on the other hand, it reflects the far-reaching extent of intercultural contacts and dialogues that have shaped such Islamic communities over time, on a local level.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Abd al Malik ibn Marwan

Yitzchak Schwartz, Intern, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012

Born in Mecca and raised in Medina, the two most holy sites of Islam, the fifth caliph, Abd Al Malik Ibn Marwan, spearheaded the creation of many of the institutions that centralized the Islamic empire around his capital in Damascus and asserted its independence from Byzantine traditions.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Costume Styles

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

Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Although this exhibition demonstrates how difficult it can be to draw definitive cultural distinctions during periods of transition, certain forms of dress from the period do indicate regional affiliations.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Synagogue at Hammam Lif, Tunisia

Yitzchak Schwartz, Intern, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012

In the late nineteenth century, French soldiers stationed at the town of Hammam Lif—the ancient city of Naro in southern Tunisia—accidentally rediscovered an ancient structure. The building's layout and floor mosaics were so in line with regional conventions that it was at first thought to have been a church. However, the Latin inscription in the center of the mosaic floor, which identifies the building as "Sancta Sinagoga" and is flanked by menorahs on either side, revealed the site to be a synagogue.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Walid II

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

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Conservation of the Sixth-Century Mosaics at the Church of the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai

Stephanie Caruso, Graduate Student at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012

As discussed in an earlier post, Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai has been continuously inhabited since the fourth century A.D. Remarkably, a lavish figural mosaic program from the sixth century, occupying the conch of the church's apse and a surrounding triumphal arch, survives to this day.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Qasr al-Mshatta

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

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.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Byzantium and . . . Hip-Hop?

Grace Labatt, Editor, Voyageur Press

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fourteen centuries after the works on display in Byzantium and Islam were created, Byzantine art is flourishing where you might least expect it: the streets of New York. That's where artist Manny Vega displays his large-scale mosaics of saints, heroes, dancers, and conga-drumming angels, all made using true Byzantine techniques.

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Byzantium and Islam Exhibition Blog

Interview with the Textile Conservator

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

Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One of the most interesting things about working on an exhibition is getting to meet all the different people involved on the project. Each member of the team performs a crucial role in preparing for an exhibition. I recently interviewed Kathrin Colburn, a textile conservator here, to find out about her work.

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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.