World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


THE MONGOLS AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE MIDDLE EAST - 2/3: Middle Eastern Culture and Art under Mongol Rule (439) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI 23, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Bruno De Nicola and Dr. Siddharth Saxena

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The artistic representations of a time and place can provide important information about processes of cultural exchange in society. This panel focuses on the cultural and artistic life of the Middle East under Mongol rule. Despite the devastation provoked by the Mongol invasions in the region, some trends of cultural and artistic production flourished in the area. The contributors will explore the reciprocal influence of the Mongols and the conquered populations in the region focusing on the arts and cultural life of the Middle East under nomadic domination.

Chair: Dr. Judith Pfeiffer, University of Oxford

Paper presenter: Michal Biran, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “Cultural life in Ilkhanid Baghdad”
One of the well known clichés related to the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258 is that following Hulegu's invasion, the Tigris' water blackened from the amount of ink drawn from the books that the Mongols threw into the water. This apparent destruction of the Baghdadi libraries is often claimed by Arab nationalists to be the point in which the Muslim civilization had lost its leading position vis a vis the West. However, myths and political agendas notwithstanding, looking at the actual state of the libraries in Ilkhanid Baghdad reveals a picture of striving intellectual community, in which pre-Mongol libraries (mostly al-Mustansiriyya's) continued to develop, novel libraries were established in newly built ribats and madrasas, and book trade had been a profitable profession, catering for both personal libraries and the more institutialized ones.
Based on a close reading in biographical dictionaries and contemporary chronicles, especially Ibn al-Fuwatti's Talkhis majma' al-adab, this paper seeks to review and analyze the roles, dimensions and functions of libraries in Ilkhanid Baghdad and to portray the career of several local librarians and book sellers. On the basis of such data, the paper will also discuss the role of the Mongols and their administrators among Baghdad's intellectual community and what impact their rule had on the book culture and on the transmission of knowledge in Ilkhanid Iran.

Paper presenter: Karin Ruehrdanz, Royal Ontario
Museum / University of Toronto, “From the Mongols to the Timurids: Refinement and attrition in Persian painting”
Paralleling Dust Muhammad’s account on “lifting the veil from the face of depiction” during the 14th century, 20th-century research has described the development of Persian miniature painting of that period as the emergence of the Timurid style. Tracing the formation process research accepted an approach as exclusionary as the 16th-century Persian author. If we have not come to terms yet with a phenomenon like the works of Muhammad Siyah Qalam it may be because we do not sufficiently understand the relationship between the officially promoted artistic development and the sidelined currents some of which may have continued less visibly.
Under the Timurids, Persian painting was streamlined to perfectly fit Persian poetry, including its strong mystic overtones. In the last quarter of the 14th century this process becomes obvious first at the Muzaffarid court with its limited artistic resources. Jala’irid painting still seems to have preserved a much broader approach making extensive use of manifold opportunities opened up to painting in the Ilkhanid period. Unfortunately, evidence is so far only found in the albums, with most pictures stripped of their context. Even the albums, I suspect, do not represent the full range of production because the selection of pictures seems to have been restricted to those that, in retrospective, fitted into the stylistic line of development.
However, the selection included pictures originating from contexts other than courtly epic poetry. They remain poorly understood – precisely for this reason. This preliminary analysis looks at the range of subjects and their possible literary contexts. It is entirely based upon the relevant material in the Diez albums at the Berlin State Library, more specifically on Ipşiroğlu’s “Group III.” The paper aims to show that while creating the visual idiom perfectly matching Persian poetry and, moreover, allowing it to be interpreted in a mystical way, Timurid court ateliers effectively put a hold on other promising artistic developments.

Paper presenter: Judith Kolbas, Miami University Oxford, Ohio, "Historical Epic as Mongol Propaganda: Juvayni''s Motifs and Motives"
History is written by the conquerors supposedly, but the adage does not apply to the Mongols. Rather notices from the Middle East have provided the most information about the origin and successes of the Mongols. One author, Ata Malik Juvayni, has been particularly important. Since he was often a contemporary of events; his material has greatly affected our understanding of the Mongols. However, his work, The History of the World Conqueror, must also be considered a literary masterpiece, which as such requires critical analysis. This presentation will examine some of his motifs and motives. Special emphasis will be paid to the reports of the destruction of cities, Nishapur being a specific case with conflicting details from the internal story and from external numismatic material, of razing walls, which he presented as a horror to urban cultures, and of the magnificent generosity, perhaps profligacy, of Ogedai Khan, which emanated from his word play on the Mongolian language,. These points and others have completely different meanings for Mongols, so why did Juvayni write such Mongol propaganda for his own defeated Persian readers? The conclusion is that he was not writing under the watchful eye of any Mongol court censor but for an elite Persian audience. In fact, he was developing a unique literary style that used factual history to create a new kind of epic literature. His success had repercussions later with a possible near contemporary example of the remarkable resurgence of the Shahname, Firdawsi's epic poem of the eleventh century glorifying ancient Persian kings, which the Mongol court brought to such high standards of illustration with the introduction of Chinese styles that revolutionized Persian painting. Ultimately, Juvayni's poetic hyperbole with great pathos and equally exuberant royal or battle scenes does depict seismic shifts in world history and cultural patterns, but historians should be aware of his artistic methods.