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Art History Today
Midlands, United Kingdom
Professional Art Historian, Phd in Poussin,
Interests: music, art history, films, (classical through to rock), literature (mainly modern crime mystery).
Recent Activity
Slides. 1) Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, completed 691, built on platform formerly occupied by Solomon’s Temple. 2) Polychrome and mother of pearl mosaic, Dome of the Rock. 3) Great Mosque of Damascus, 706, Damascus, Syria. 4) Mosaics of the Great Mosque of Damascus. 5) Map of Three Empires: Byzantine, Sassanian & Rashidun Caliphate. 6) Qubbat al-Khazna, "Dome of the Treasury, Umayyad Mosque, 8th century, Damascus, Syria. 7) Two coins of the Umayyad Caliphate, based on Byzantine prototypes. Copper falus, Aleppo, Syria, circa 695. 8) Map of Umayyad Caliphate in 750. 9) Desert Castle at Qusayr 'Amra, East Jordan, 723-743.... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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The Aesthetics of Islamic Script Most Islamic buildings incorporate architecture, painting, decoration and calligraphy in a dazzling combination. Kufic is the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts and consists of a modified form of the old Nabataean script. Kufic developed around the end of the 7th century in Kufa, Iraq, from which it takes its name, and other centres. Initially without diacritics or accents, Kufic gradually incorporated these to help with pronunciation. Kufic script could be described as “angular and attenuated” with about three or four lines of bold calligraphy on each page of the Qu’ran whose development... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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June 14th- Towers of Masud III (1099-1115), Ghazni, (near Herat), Afghanistan. One of two towers built by Ghiyath ad-Din Muhammed (1163-1203) of the Ghurid dynasty. May have been inspired by the Qutb Minaret at Delhi. Byron describes and explains the construction and purpose of the Ghazni Towers (“built as minarets, commemorative rather than religious”); tries to clarify confusion over the founders; comments on the difference between the two towers (“difference in breadth”); notes their similarities ( “both built of a rich toffee brick tinged with red, and are adorned with carved terracotta of the same colour”); analyses the decoration and... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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May 6th, Tower of Radkan, 13th century, Afghanistan. In Byron’s words: “A massive cylindrical grave tower with a conical roof, ninety feet high, and dating from the XIIIth century.The outside wall consist of columns two feet thick, which touch one another. Their brickwork, rusty-red in colour, is arranged in tweed patterns, which give the building a kind of shine, as of a well-groomed horse. Unlike the Gambad-i- Kabus, this tower has a staircase in the thickness of the wall.”[1] [1] Road to Oxiana, 239. Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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April 24th- Tower of Kabus, 1006, N. Iran. Set up as a burial tower for Emir Shamas al Ma’ali Quabus inside which would have been two tiers, a sumptuous coffin in the upper one. The baked-brick-built tower is an enormous decagon building with a conic roof, which forms the golden ratio Phi, that equals 1.618. The interiors contain the earliest examples of Muqarnas decorative styles. The decagon with its 3 meter-thick wall, divided into 10 sides, has a diameter of 17 m. The Tower was built on such a scientific and architectural design that at the front of the Tower,... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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February 22nd- Ardeshir Palace, Gor, Iran, 224 A.D. Named after King Ardashir of the Sassanian Empire, though its design is thought to be unique: neither comfortably fitting into either Sassanian or Parthian category. Striking feature is three domes which strengthen the idea of it as a palace rather than a military castle. Byron estimates the size of the building (contesting previous measurements); describes its structure (two courts separated by three domed chambers); reports on its current condition (only half the east chamber standing); speculates on how the building was lit (holes in the cupola); comments on the brickwork and mouldings... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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February 11th Imam Mosque of Isfahan, 11th cent. One of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, it may have previously been a house of worship for Zoroastrians. Built in the 11th century, to Byron this mosque pictures “the whole history” of the town of Isfahan.[1] Standing in the maidan (open square in a town) Byron observes: “At the near end, by me, stands the ruin of the Bazaar Gate; at the far, facing it, the blue portal of the Masjid-i-Shah, with dome, ivan, and minarets clumped obliquely behind it in the direction of Mecca; in front of each a... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Six of the Best: A Selection of Byron’s Islamic Buildings. November, Masjid-i- Juma (Friday Mosque), Isfahan, Iran. Founded in 1200 by Ghiyas-ad-Din, son of Sam, of the Ghorid dynasty. Name means Friday mosque. After placing “this morose old mosque” in its historical period, Byron analyses the composition of the building. He is standing in a flagged court 100 yards long by 65 broad. Four ivans- see above- breaking the four arcaded sides; the main ivan, on the west, attended by two massive towers with blue cupola. Apart from these there is no colour, “only whitewash, bad brick, and broken bits... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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A Note on Robert Byron’s Method. It is difficult to talk about an objective method in Byron since every situation, every monument, every piece of art suggested a different approach. It might be best to consider Byron’s method as espousing both the numerical calculations of the property surveyor and the descriptive power of the romantic poet; he effortlessly switches from one to other and it out of this that some kind of technique emerges. As a general rule, when Byron encounters a monument or building he will either describe it including giving its dimensions and measurements; this necessitates using language... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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In the Footsteps of Robert Byron, “Professor of Islamic Studies.” Born into the upper middle class Robert Byron- no relation to the famous poet- was educated at Eton and Oxford. But the academic life did not suit Byron and he was sent down from Oxford with an undistinguished third probably because he spent too much time carousing with the likes of aesthetes like Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard.[1] At school he had been force-fed Greek statuary and architecture, though he was to rebel against what Lord Byron called “antiquarian twaddle,” and even the renaissance, much preferring the cultures of Byzantium,... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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The Basics of Islamic Architecture For most westerners, the architectural element that marks a building as Islamic is the minaret, the slim columns tapering to a sharp point which have projected platforms from which the muezzin summons people to prayer, these days amplified through loudspeakers. Connected with these is the mihrab, a prayer niche facing Mecca; these featured on coins during the early Islamic period, though originally mihrabs had no religious connotations whatsoever. Mihrabs can be humble and undecorated or heavily baroque and huge as in Haghia Sophia; they represent a door into paradise. Not as familiar to non-oriental people... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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The Origins of Islamic Architecture It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of Islamic architecture, but most historians believe that the earlier dwellings of the Bedouin tribesmen were the earliest manifestation of the style. These were a nomadic people who lived in tents; but after the conquest of Syria, Palestine and Persia, towns sprang up, and within these Christian churches were converted into mosques. For example in Damascus, a pagan temple transformed into a Christian church was incorporated into the Grand Mosque built by the Caliph al- Walid I in (706-15 above). As scholars have noted, Islamic architecture seems... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Art & the Abbasids 750- 950 A.D. The Abbasid dynasty takes its name from the nephew of the prophet Mohammed’s uncle- al- Abbas. Due to internal riots, especially in Iraq, and the inability of the Umayyad to maintain control amidst growing dissent, power passed to the Abbasid dynasty which would last until 1258 when the Mongols conquered Baghdad which during the Abbasid reign became the new capital of the region. With the Abbasids, the centre of power was transferred to Iraq resulting in the Muslims being brought closer to ancient Iranian traditions.[1] Because of its location near the Tigris and... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Birth of Islamic Art in the Umayyad Period 650-750. The Moslem conquest of Persia, or Arab conquest of Iran, specifically the Sassanian Empire, happened because the Persians were weary of decades of warring with the Byzantines. The Arabs took advantage of this in 633, and to cut a long story short this led to the supplanting of the Zoroastrian religion by Islam; and the Moslems playing the role of landlords. The Umayyad period refers to the first of four Moslem dynasties after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632 A.D. which reigned for about ninety years. The Umayyad is... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Between Byzantium & Islam: The Dome of the Rock An excellent point of departure for considering the transition from previous civilisations like the Byzantine and Roman to Islamic is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem which is the earliest surviving Islamic monument. Completed in 691, it became an important focus for the Muslim religion because it is believed that this is where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven; it is also thought to be the first chief artistic achievement of the Umayyad dynasty. [1] Yet the monument is linked with a plethora of other cultural and religious traditions: it... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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In case you’re wondering what the gold medallion is at the side of this blog: it shows that Art History Today has won a place in the top 20 best art history blogs on the planet- no 6. List of Top 20 blogs from Feedspot here. Many thanks to them and thanks to visitors. Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Art History Today
1) Photo of Palmyra. 2) Map of the Silk Roads 300 B.C to 100 A.D. 3) Arabic Camel at Palmyra. 4) Arsu Riding a Camel, ca. 2nd century A.D., Limestone, Dura-Europos (Syria), Parthian or Roman, 2nd century A.D. 5) Temple of Bel, Dura-Europos, founded 303 B.C. 6) Plan of Dura-Europos. 7) Dura-Europos paintings from Synagogue, 244 A.D., National Museum of Damascus, Syria. 8) Scenes from the Book of Esther from the Dura-Europos synagogue, 244 A.D. 9) Map of the Periplus (Latinized “sailing-around) of the Erythraean Sea (Indian Ocean), 1st century AD 10) Roman gold coins excavated in Pudukottai, India. One... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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A Note on Byzantine Architecture Arguably, an unadulterated Byzantine style is more detectable in the architecture of the empire rather than its visual art. Byzantine architecture has been called “the culmination of Early Christian architecture” since it developed out of two main forms: the basilica and “the centrally planned church reserved for the shrines of the martyrs.” However, Byzantine shook off the classical style: it dispensed with the orders, and in place of floriated capitals it substituted impost blocks which lent the columns a more austere look. The masterpiece of Byzantine architecture is the Cathedral of Haghia Sophia (above) or... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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A Note on Byzantine Painting & Mosaics. Though mosaic was used for floors in civilisations like the Macedonian, the earliest use of mosaics “in a vertical position for wall decoration” was at Pompeii.[1] Though Byzantine mosaic has some lineage with these, it did not show pagan religion since Christianity had been adopted officially as the empire’s faith. Once Byzantine mosaics had been launched- 536-546 A.D.- certain images became linked with specific locations in churches: Christ was shown on the dome, the Virgin was shown in the apse, four evangelists on the pendentives, and so on. Rice identifies two prevailing trends... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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Byzantium on the Silk Roads The Byzantine Empire ran on an economic paradox: despite its advantageous setting with Constantinople on the Bosporus allowing full access to the sea lanes and over-land routes, the people who ran the empire despised trade.[1] Taxation was heavy in order to protect precious goods including silk which came into the empire because the secret of the silk moths was smuggled out of China by Nestorian monks who brought it to the capital of Byzantium where they presented their discovery to the emperor Justinian (above); from then on silk would thus provide thread for Roman and... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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The Byzantine Achievement. On a visit to see his friend Lord Byron in Ravenna in 1821, Shelley took time out to inspect the mosaics in the church of San Vitale; the poet’s impressions were hardly favourable as he observed that this example of Byzantine art seemed to have been "of the first efforts of the Christian religion to destroy the power of producing beauty in art." This attitude towards the sacred art of Byzantium cannot solely be attributed to Shelley’s atheism; disdain of the style has persisted for Byzantine art up to the present day from Vasari onwards. Just over... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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Art & Faith in the Constantine Era. Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, better known to the world as “Constantine the Great” (above) was born in 272 and died 337 A.D. Constantine is the only Roman emperor to be born a pagan and to die a Christian, due to his conversion which led to the Edict of Milan in 331 A.D which proclaimed tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire; and greater freedoms for Jewish communities such as the one at Dura-Europos mentioned earlier.[1] In addition to setting up many monuments like the Arch of Constantine in Rome (315 A.D), the... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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China Looks Westwards. Looking at it from the other direction, the Chinese started to take an interest in the West, though they would have called Europe and the Near East “Central Asia.” It is believed that the first Chinaman to have, possibly, reached Rome was Gan Ying despatched by the procurator-general Ban Chao from the Tarim Basin across Parthia in 97. A.D. to Da Qin, the Chinese name for the Roman Empire which was, in the words of Frances Wood “as if they sensed a parallel power at the other end of the Silk Road.”[1] Though Gan Ying probably didn’t... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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Silk & Rome. Chinese silk was the first important commodity to be imported from East to West; it seems to have reached the Mediterranean in the 2nd century B.C. The West’s knowledge of Chinese silk seems to have been muddled to say the least. The Romans spoke of the “Seres” or “Silk People,” not exclusively the Chinese, but they probably meant all the peoples of East Asia. Additionally, the Roman historian Florus tells us that in addition to the Scythians and Sarmatians coming to Rome to pay tribute to Augustus, the Seres did as well the Indians who “dwelt in... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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Rome Looks Eastwards Although the Romans had successfully used Palmyra and Dura as commercial and military centres on the trade routes, they had in fact discovered a new itinerary along which silk could be imported into the West: sea routes that linked Egypt’s Red Sea coasts with the Persian Gulf and the western coasts of the Indian sub-continent.[1] And some evidence exists to show that prior to the Roman occupation of Egypt, Ptolemaic sailors used these routes. None of this had escaped the attention of the Han Dynasty in China, and one of their historians Fan Ye noted in his... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at Art History Today