Islamic Illuminated Manuscripts: A Three Part Course with Dr. Sabahat Adil

Islamic Illuminated Manuscripts: A Three Part Course with Dr. Sabahat Adil


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Many museums around the world display beautiful folios of Islamic illuminated manuscripts, yet analyzing and understanding these folios can seem like a daunting task. Many of these works require language training in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish (and more) and also expert knowledge in the subject matter.

Our three-part course will offer an introduction to the tradition of Islamic illuminated manuscripts by taking advantage of the array of digitized manuscript collections and exploring them together with learners firsthand. Together, we will gain a better understanding of the elements of the manuscripts themselves such as bookbindings, paper, inks, and more, and we will also discuss the circumstances of production such as imperial guilds and workshops.

Learners will leave the session with a stronger understanding of the robust tradition of Islamic illuminated manuscripts and feel prepared to explore these pieces when they encounter them in museums.

Led by an expert on the Mediterranean and Islamic history and culture, Dr. Sabahat Adil, this Conversation will shed light on the incredibly rich and layered history of Islamic manuscripts. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the arts of the book and their developments through time.

Lecture One - The Emergence of an Islamic Manuscript Tradition:

In the 1st part of the course, together we will explore the emergence of the tradition of illuminated Islamic manuscript production, which is rooted in the importance placed on the written word in the Qur’anic tradition and the concomitant development of Arabic calligraphy. One of the best examples of such manuscripts and calligraphy is the so-called “Blue Qur’an” housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Lecture Two - Islamic Illuminated Manuscripts in Central Asia:

In the 2nd part of the course, we will dive into Islamic illuminated manuscripts from the Ilkhanid and Timurid dynasties of Central Asia, which are focused on depictions of the great Persian epic known as Shahnama or Book of Kings. One of the premier examples of such manuscripts is known as the Great Mongol Shahnama, folios of which are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lecture Three - Islamic Illuminated Manuscripts of the Gunpowder Empires:

In the 3rd part of the course, we will examine Islamic illuminated manuscripts from the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires, which was a period of time in which rulers commissioned beautiful manuscripts to be produced in workshops that they supported. One example of such a manuscript is a Persian copy of The Wonders of Creation, a fascinating encyclopedic work featuring objects from the natural world, housed at The Walters Art Museum. 

Passionate about the past and its connections with the present, Sabahat Adil, PhD has expertise on the history of the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds, particularly in terms of cultural history. She earned her PhD from the University of Chicago and has taught extensively at a variety of institutions, including the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Newberry Library. Her research and publications focus on the history of North Africa and medieval Iberia. Sabahat has also worked in museum settings, including the Freer and Sackler in Washington, D.C. and the Field Museum in Chicago.

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation:

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording after the event.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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