Publication

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

    Yale University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007

    ISBN HardBack:
    978-0-300-13542-8
  • Arts of the City Victorious is the first book-length study of the art and architecture produced under the Fatimidsinfo-icon, 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-Qahirainfo-icon (“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 Crusadersinfo-icon 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 Byzantineinfo-icon 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. The fourth chapter investigates the wide range of decorative arts—ranging from textiles, ceramics, metalwares, glass and rock crystal, to woodwork, ivory and painting—produced in Cairo during this same period as Ismaili and other immigrants joined native Egyptians to create vibrant new styles and techniques. It also takes up the role of representation in Fatimid art.

    Following a series of crises in the middle of the eleventh century about succession to the throne, the economy, and the nature of the political state, Fatimid rulers were no longer able to pursue their patronage on such a grand scale, but nevertheless architecture and the arts continued to flourish for another century under the patronage of immensely wealthy and powerful viziers. The fifth chapter treats architecture—military, residential, and religious—from the 1060s to the fall of the dynasty in 1171 CE. It shows how new patrons underwrote smaller but more numerous kinds of buildings to achieve new ends. The sixth chapter covers the same ground in the decorative arts, as some of the fabulous wealth of the Fatimid treasuries was dispersed, and some craftsmen emigrated from Egypt to seek their fortunes elsewhere, notably in Syria and Iran.

    The final chapter explores the legacies of Fatimid art and architecture in Egypt, North Africa and Sicily, as well as in medieval Europe and modern times. Fatimid architecture, although much of it was destroyed, set the model for the subsequent activities of Egypt’s Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers. Fatimid secular arts were transformed by craftsmen in medieval Europe into liturgical vessels and vestments far removed from their original contexts. The rediscovery of Fatimid histories and Fatimid art in the nineteenth century led to increased interest in the subject, but this book is the first comprehensive treatment of the entire range of visual arts from the Fatimid period in North Africa and Egypt.

    Written in an engaging and accessible style, the book concentrates on securely dated and localized examples of Fatimid art and architecture. Discussions focus on key examples illustrated with 165 illustrations, mostly in color. The book synthesises the findings of many scholars in many languages, and extensive notes and bibliography provide guidance for further reading and research

  •  

     
    Foreword
    ix
     
    Preface
    xiii
         
    I
    An Introduction to Fatimid History and Fatimid Art
    1
         
    II
    Fatimid Art in North Africa
    15
     
    Fatimid Origins
    15
     
    Prelude in Syria
    16
     
    Arrival in North Africa
    17
     
    Mahdiyya
    22
     
    The Reign of al-Qa’iminfo-icon
    33
     
    The Reign of al-Mansur
    35
     
    Mansuriyya
    37
     
    Mansuriyya in the Mediterranean Context
    40
     
    Decorative Arts during the Reign of al-Mu’izz in North Africa
    42
         
    III
    Architecture in Egypt from 969 to the 1060s
    51
     
    The Arts in Egypt before the Fatimidsinfo-icon
    53
     
    The Founding of Cairo
    54
     
    Architecture
    59
     
    Conclusion
    85
         
    IV
    The Decorative Arts from 969 to the 1060s
    89
     
    Egyptian Arts before the Fatimids
    90
     
    Textiles
    91
     
    Ceramics
    93
     
    Metalwares
    97
     
    Precious Metals
    99
     
    Rock Crystal and Glass
    101
     
    Woodwork
    105
     
    Ivory
    107
     
    Books and Paintings
    109
     
    Representation in Fatimid Art
    113
         
    V
    Architecture from the 1060s s to 1171
    117
     
    The Historical Setting
    118
     
    Military Architecture
    121
     
    Palaces
    129
     
    Religious Architecture
    129
         
    VI
    The Decorative Arts from the 1060s to 1171
    157
     
    The Dispersal of the Fatimid Treasures
    157
     
    Coins
    159
     
    Textiles
    159
     
    Woodwork
    162
     
    Ceramics and Glass
    167
     
    Metalware
    170
     
    Books
    170
     
    Paintings
    171
         
    VIII
    The Legacies of Fatimid Art
    175
     
    Cairo
    176
     
    Egyptian Islamic Art
    181
     
    North Africa
    184
     
    Sicily
    189
     
    Christian Europe
    193
     
    Conclusion
    197
         
     
    Appendix: The Fatimid Caliphs
    200
     
    Notes
    201
     
    Bibliography
    220
     
    Photograph credits
    230
     
    Index
    231

     

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  • Jonathan M. Bloom

    English
    Jonathan M. Bloom shares both the Norma Jean Calderwood University Professorship of Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College and the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at Virginia Commonwealth University with his wife and colleague, Sheila S. Blair. He is the author of the award-winning book, Paper Before Print: the History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (2001) as well as co-author of Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power (2001), Islamic Arts (1997) and The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250-1800 (1994). For many years he was area editor for Islam and Central Asia...Read more