SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Art and Architecture of the Fatimids

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

The course aims to provide the student with a thorough grounding in the art historical aspects of Fatimid art and architecture within a Mediterranean context and in relation to other Islamic areas. Throughout the course reference will be made to artistic practices in contemporary Umayyad Spain, Sicily, Mesopotamia and Iran. Artistic sources and parallels will be explored, as, for example, the Byzantine- Coptic tradition. Reference to traded artefacts within the Mediterranean will be made and specific cases will be studied.

Issues of a new system of patronage and production will be discussed, and a wide range of artefacts as well as monuments will be studied. Theoretical issues relating to dynastic labelling will be addressed. The course will make use of London's collections, such as the new Islamic gallery at the V&A, the British Museum and medieval artefacts housed in the Courtauld Institute.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course the student should:

  • Have a good overall grasp of the stylistic range of Fatimid art and architecture.
  • Understand the main issues raised by the art historical discourse surrounding it.
  • Be able to use the knowledge and skills gained to prepare a research profile.
  • Be able to produce effective written and oral presentations on the subject.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)
  • One slide test (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Caiger-Smith, A., Lustre Pottery. Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western World, London, 1985.
  • Carboni, S. and Whitehouse, D., Glass of the Sultans, New York, 2001.
  • Contadini, A., "Islamic Ivory Chess Pieces, Draughtsmen and Dice in the Ashmolean Museum" in Islamic Art in the Ashmolean Museum - Oxford Studies in Islamic Art, ed. by J. Allan, Oxford University Press, Vol. X, part 1, 1995, pp. 111-154 and Figs. 1-56.
  • Contadini, A., "Des arts décoratifs florissants", in Trésors fatimides du Caire, ed. by G. Ghitani, Paris, Institute du Monde Arabe, 1998, pp. 74-84, and entries 23, 26, 54, 55, 82, 85, 87, 89, 100, 155, 156, 161, 203, 205, 208.
  • Contadini, A., Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1998.
  • Contadini, A., The Cutting Edge: Problems of History, Identification and Technique of Fatimid Rock Crystals, in L'Egypte fatimide. Son art et son histoire, ed. by M. Barrucand, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Paris-Sorbonne, 1999, pp. 319-329.
  • Contadini, A., Camber, R., and Northover, P., Beasts That Roared: The Pisa Griffin And The New York Lion, in Ball, W. and Harrow, L. (eds.), Cairo to Kabul - Afghan and Islamic Studies presented to Ralph Pinder-Wilson, London, 2002, pp. 65-83.
  • Contadini, A., Fatimid Ivories Within a Mediterranean Culture in The Ivories of Muslim Spain, The Journal of the David Collection, vol. 2, ed. by K. von Folsach and J. Mayer, Copenhagen, 2005.
  • Ettinghausen, R., Painting in the Fatimid Period: a Reconstruction, Ars Islamica, vol. IX, 1942, pp. 112-124.
  • Lamm, C.J., Fatimid Woodwork, its style and chronology, Bulletin de l'Institute d'Egypte, vol. XVIII, 1935-6, pp. 59-91.
  • Seipel, W. (ed.), Nobile Officinae - Die königlichen Hofwekstätten zu Palermo zur Zeit der Normannen und Stuafer im 12. Und 13. Jahrhundert, catalogue of an exhibition held in Palermo and Vienna, 2003-04.
  • Shalem, A., The Oliphant - Islamic Objects in Historical Context, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 2004.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules