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The Fourth Biennial Hamad Bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art Explores The Object In Depth

October 30, 2011
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God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, the Fourth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Islamic Art Symposium opened its session today, the last day, with remarks from Dr. Sheila Blair and Dr. Jonathan Bloom, the organizers of the Symposium.

The three-day Symposium is co-sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Qatar Foundation, Qatar Museums Authority and the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty opened on 29 October at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

The afternoon session on the second day, 30 October, opened with speaker Ruba Kana’an presenting her paper entitled, A Biography of a 13th-century Brass Ewer: the Social and Economic Lives of Mosul Metalwork. The Doha ewer, having been made for Abu’l-Qasim Mahmud ibn Sanjar Shah who ruled the Jazirat Bani Umar in the first half of the 13th century, is comparable to other surviving Mosul ewers currently in major museum collections including the British museum, the Louver and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Kana’an, head of Research and Publications at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, examined the ewer’s decorative style and motifs, manufacturing techniques, and patronage and also the social, economic and political context of Mosul where these ewers were produced.

The last speaker of the day, Kjeld von Folsach, director at The David Collection in Copenhagen, presented his paper, As Precious as Gold – Some Woven Textiles from the Mongol Period. Textiles from the 14th century, many of them preserved in Tibetan monasteries, were the focus of this presentation. Manufactured within the borders of the new Mongol empire, they display a fascinating mixture of Western and Eastern motifs, techniques, styles and fashions, drawing on a vast cultural hinterland from Iraq in the West to China in the East.

The last day of the Symposium opened on Monday, 31 October, with opening remarks from Blair and Bloom and immediately followed with independent scholar Rachel Ward presenting her paper, The Doha Bucket and an Experimental Glass Workshop. Ward examined the large red 14th century gilded and enameled glass bucket from the MIA’s collection, made by a group of Mamluk glassmakers who strove to increase the coverage and thickness of the enameled decoration by experimenting with the chemical constituents of the glass and enamels.

The next speaker, also an independent scholar, author and publisher of numerous books and periodicals on various aspects of Asian textile art, Michael Fransess, examined the finest discovery of the 12th and 14th century Anatolian rugs, The Four Pregnant Senmurvs Rug, one of the great masterpieces in the MIA. His paper, New Light on Early Anatolian Animal Carpets, presented a detailed study of its design and technique and compared it with rugs depicted in contemporary paintings from Iran and Italy.

Renowned calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya’s paper, Murakkaa: The Ottoman Calligraphic Album and Its Role in Establishing the International Style, discussed the albums and teaching methods of the Seyh Hamdullah model. Based on the 14th century Ottoman master’s work, the model proved adaptable and applicable on the widest scale and is evolving until this day.

Dr. John Seyller, professor of Art History, University of Vermont, opened the afternoon session with his paper entitled, Assembled Beauty: Five Folios from the Jahangir Album. Examining the five previously unknown folios from the Jahangir Album, a magisterial manuscript that began under the auspices of Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) in the 15th century, Seyller discussed the paintings and specimens of writing by royal artists and eminent calligraphers of the time that filled the album.

Editor of Islamic Art, Eleanor Sims, delivered the final presentation of the day, 17th-Century Safavid Persian Oil Paintings in the Museum of Islamic Art. Two of the six late-Safavid paintings in oil on canvas which are at the MIA were the center of the presentation. The 17th century paintings, of nearly life-size of men and women dressed in the garb of upper-class Persians and the Oriental Christians, were commissioned by Europeans who came to the Safavid court to take back with them, as a visual record of people from unfamiliar parts of the world.

The Symposium closed in the afternoon with a discussion and remarks from the co-chairs. “We have been overwhelmed by the public enthusiasm for this event,” said Bloom and Blair. “Many attendees have come up to us individually to tell us how excited they are to participate. One even said that it was a ‘Spa for the soul.’ We’re also extraordinarily pleased by the quality and professionalism of the presentations, which serve to bring the wonderful collections of the MIA to the broader public.”

The Hamad bin Khalifa Symposia on Islamic Art, sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, VCUQatar and Qatar Foundation, address significant themes and issues in understanding the visual arts of the Islamic lands. These symposia seek to make the latest and most interesting scholarship in this growing field of Islamic art available and accessible to a wide audience, ranging from students and scholars to artists, architects, designers and the interested public. For more information please visit www.islamicartdoha.org

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