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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Arab Painting

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Term 2

The course aims to provide the student with a thorough grounding in the art historical aspects of painting, calligraphy and illumination of the Arab world.  It will start with the early period, concentrating on the beginning of the Islamic book, discussing the early manuscripts of the Qur’an and a representative selection of significant illustrated manuscripts of the Arab world. Throughout the course reference will be made to painting practices in other media and the use of calligraphy in the decorative arts and architecture.  Particular attention will be given to aesthetic and theoretical issues relating to the question of representational art in Islam, the relationship between text and image, and the role of calligraphy in Islam. The course will cover a broader range of material both in geographical and in chronological terms.

Developing out of my previous “Painting, Calligraphy and Illumination of the Islamic World” this course will consist of half unit concentrating on production of the book from the Arab lands 7th-14th century, and will be complementary to, but independent from, the other proposed half unit on Persian Painting. The split into two half units follows from discussions at Department and School level, and will better suit students demand, therefore potentially attracting more students

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate.

  •  have a good overall grasp of the stylistic range and techniques of Arab painting, including illumination and calligraphy
  • understand the main issues raised by the art historical discourse surrounding them
  • be able to use the knowledge and skills gained to prepare a research profile for a dissertation topic
  • be able to produce effective written and oral presentations on the subject


2 Hours per week

Method of assessment

  • One assignment at 75% (wordcount 4,500 words)
  • One slide test - 25%

Suggested reading

Theoretical issues
  • D. Behrens-Abouseif, Beauty in Arabic Culture, Princeton, 1999.
  • E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, Phaidon, London, 1950 (and subsequent editions).
  • V. Gonzales, Beauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2001.
  • O. Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1973 (and subsequent editions).
  • O. Grabar, The Mediation of Ornament, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992.
  • O. Grabar and C. Robinson (ed.), Islamic Art and Literature, Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton, 2001.
  • O. Leaman, Islamic Aesthetics – An Introduction, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2004.