Art of the Islamic World: Objects in Context

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

The course focuses upon objects that represent outstanding achievements of the arts of the Islamic lands of the pre-modern period. Artefacts produced under the major dynasties of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ilkhanids will be studied, including rock crystals, textiles, ceramics, glass, metalwork, woodwork and ivory. Close focus on individual artefacts will help to answer broader historical, cultural and technological questions. The agency and consumption of such objects will form integral part of the study in this module.

Another important art historical aspect that will be explored is the artistic interactions between the Islamic Middle East and Europe, including the circulation of objects and their transculturation.

The course includes visits to London Museum collections, such as those of the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Courtauld Institute.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Acquire knowledge of the main aspects of art objects and material culture produced in the Islamic Middle East during the pre-modern period.
  • Identify relevant objects, assigning them accurately to their time and place.
  • Have developed further skills in critical reading and well-structured essay-writing.
  • Discuss specific points related to the course, individually and in groups, a skill that the students will develop through formative, informal assessment.


  • 2 hours per week

Scope and syllabus

Theoretical issues in the study of objects and material culture; historiography; context and connections; agency and consumption; the art of calligraphy and its applications; objects case studies; the circulation of objects; transculturation.

Method of assessment

  • One exam (worth 30%)
  • One 750-word review/report (worth 20%)
  • One 2,000 word essay (worth 50%)

Suggested reading

  • Allan, J.W., Persian Metal Technology 700-1300 AD , Oxford, 1979.
  • Carboni, S. and Whitehouse, D., Glass of the Sultans , New York, 2001.
  • Contadini, A. (ed.), The Pisa Griffin and the Mari-Cha Lion. Metalwork, Art, and technology in the Medieval Islamicate Mediterranean , Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2018.
  • Contadini, A., “Text and Image on Middle Eastern Objects: ​The Palmer Cup ​in Context”, in: Shirley, Pippa and Thornton, Dora, (eds.), A Rothschild Renaissance: A New Look at the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum . London: British Museum Research Publications 212, 2017, pp 124-145.
  • Contadini, A., “Facets of Light: The Case of Rock Crystals”, in: Bloom, Jonathan and Blair, Sheila, (eds.), God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Light in Islamic Art and Culture . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 121-155.
  • Contadini, A., “Sharing a Taste? Material Culture and Intellectual Curiosity around the Mediterranean, from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth Century”, in: Contadini, Anna and Norton, Claire, (eds.), The Renaissance and the Ottoman World . Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013, pp 23-61.
  • Flood, B. and Necipoğlu, G. “Frameworks of Islamic Art and Architecture: Concepts, Approaches and Historiographies”, in: Finbarr Barry Flood and Gulru Necipoglu (eds.), A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture , 2 Volumes, 2017, pp.
  • von Folsach, K. and Meyer J., (eds.), The Ivories of Muslim Spain, Journal of the David Collection , Volumes 2,1 & 2,2, Copenhagen, 2005.
  • Sokoly, J., “Textiles and Identity”, in: Finbarr Barry Flood and Gulru Necipoglu (eds.), A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture , 2 Volumes, 2017, pp.
  • Welch, A., Calligraphy in the Arts of the Muslim World , Austin, 1979.


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