Arts of the City Victorious: Islamic Art and Architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt

Arts of the City Victorious is the first book-length study of the art and architecture produced under the Fatimids, the Ismaili Shi‘i dynasty that ruled in North Africa and Egypt from 909 to 1171 CE. The Fatimids are famous for founding the city of al-Qahira (“the victorious,” whence the name Cairo) in 969 CE, and their art—particularly textiles and luster ceramics, but also metalwork and carved rock-crystal, ivory and woodwork—has been admired for nearly a millennium. Initially brought home to Europe by merchants and Crusaders and then preserved as relics and reliquaries in church treasuries, Fatimid art is still prized today by collectors and curators for its strongly figural imagery, otherwise unusual in the arts of the contemporary Islamic lands, and its elegant and inventive use of Arabic calligraphy, particularly the angular “Kufic” script from which leaves and tendrils grow. Surviving examples of Fatimid art and architecture are supplemented by an unusual wealth of medieval texts that provide evidence for the rich visual culture shared among the Muslim, Christian and Jewish inhabitants of the Fatimid realm. Fatimid art and architecture has always been somewhat anomalous in the history of Islamic art because of the direction in which it grew (west to east), subject matter (figural at a time when geometry and the arabesque are developing elsewhere), and unusually rich and precise documentation in royal and popular accounts. Whereas earlier studies treated the two and a half centuries of Fatimid art and architecture as a single category, this book is the first to show how they grew and evolved over time.

The book begins by situating Fatimid art in the larger history of Islamic art and summarizing previous scholarship about it. The first chapter also raises questions about whether the art of the Fatimids is a consciously dynastic art, meant to bolster and support the regime’s policies, or whether it was simply the product of its time and place, specifically the period when the largely benevolent Fatimid regime led to the revival of Egypt as an agricultural, commercial, industrial, intellectual and artistic center. It also questions whether Fatimid art, as some authors have argued, has specifically Shi‘i and esoteric qualities, or it is just another chapter in the nuanced history of the visual arts in the Islamic lands. The second chapter traces the origins of the Fatimid dynasty from their obscure beginnings in Iraq and Syria to their emergence in what is now Tunisia in the early tenth century CE. The chapter chronicles the development of a rather tentative Fatimid art in North Africa as the new rulers attempted to establish themselves and their dynasty in relatively hostile surroundings. It explores how the rulers began to exploit the new dynasty’s complex relationships with contemporary Mediterranean powers, specifically the Byzantine empire in the east and the neo-Umayyad dynasty in the Iberian peninsula, and how these policies may—or may not—have been worked out in the visual arts.

The third chapter explores the founding of Cairo, and the burst of building activity that followed it, as the new rulers erected mosques, palaces, and shrines in their new city. The author carefully reexamines the reasons for the city’s creation and the new structures that were erected there. It also explores the possible relationships to earlier Fatimid buildings in North Africa and to contemporary ones in Syria, as craftsmen were attracted to this new and wealthy metropolis.  –More at Source


Source: IIS London

1 Response to Arts of the City Victorious: Islamic Art and Architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt

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