Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Art Department, Wellesley College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, Bryn Mawr College
Beyond the Bilad al-Sham: Images of Hunting in the Umayyad Empire

This dissertation will explore the polycentric nature of artistic production within the Umayyad empire by focusing on three examples of architectural decoration found in present day Jordan, Iran, and Tajikistan. All three contain representations of hunting and slaughter; a popular iconographic feature of aristocratic interior decoration. Although the Jordanian monument of Qusayr Amra has been at the center of the Umayyad canon for almost a century, Chal Tarkhan-Eshqabad in what is now Iran and the frescoes of Penjikent in modern Tajikistan have not been integrated into the prevailing narrative of Umayyad art because their patrons and artists were probably not Muslims. This selective erasure produces a distorted image of art within the Umayyad caliphate, producing an artificial interpretive vacuum around central monuments such as Qusayr Amra. The encounter between humans and animals represented in early medieval images of hunting provided frameworks for modeling structured relationships between other hierarchically or ontologically distinct entities, e.g. women and men, lover and beloved, self and other, civilization and wilderness, and, most relevant in the period of the Arab conquest, military victors and defeated foes. Differences in the standard iconographic treatments of hunting in Sasanian, Roman-Byzantine, Umayyad, and Sogdian art emphasize hunting as either a venue for spectacular displays of idealized masculinity and aristocratic athleticism, a quotidian seasonal labor, or a round-up and slaughter to be followed by celebratory consumption. Differences in the content and form of these hunting scenes are in fact the product of specific and complex negotiations of documentary details, idealizing aristocratic masculinity, and contingent ideological assumptions about the nature of human-animal relationships. They may also reflect the attitudes of their patrons towards the crystallizing visual culture of the Muslim elite.