Universiteit Leiden

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Text-image relationships in Persian manuscripts

  • Charles Melville
Monday 27 November 2017
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
104 (Verbarium)
Houghton Library

Although the juxtaposition of verbal and visual passages on an illustrated manuscript page is an obvious one, the topic of their relationship has not been adequately addressed in the scholarship on Islamic art. Partly this is due to the different interests and background of historians of literature and of art, the former being primarily concerned with linguistic and textual issues – establishing correct readings, noting variants, editing, translating and understanding the authors’ work. Art historians, on the other hand, until relatively recently have concentrated on aesthetic issues, connoisseurship, the identification of artists, schools and styles, and analysis of composition, colour, ‘realism’ etc. Even when the context of the painting is discussed, it tends to be the context of production – and issues of patronage, audience, or precedents – rather than the verbal context. This is witnessed by the normal habit of reproducing images in art books with the text cropped away, even though the essential point of a miniature painting (and perhaps ones in other media) is to illustrate a text, be it a story or an allusion to one. The topic is even more neglected when it comes to historical rather than poetic or literary texts (although the distinction is often not clear cut).

Our session will explore the state of the field in western art history before looking at the theory and practice of illustrating texts in the Persian tradition, and the additional dimensions of understanding how the relationship between text and image – whether close or distant – can enhance our analysis of these works, how they were perceived and received over time, rather than merely decorated.

About Charles Melville

Charles Melville is the Central Asia Visiting Professor in November 2017. Melville holds a BA Hons. in Oriental Studies (University of Cambridge), MA in Islamic History (London SOAS) and PhD. in Oriental Studies (University of Cambridge). He is Professor of Persian History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Pembroke College. He has published extensively on the history and culture of Iran in the Mongol to Safavid periods, and the illustration of Persian manuscripts and the Shahnama of Firdausi. Recent publications include “Rashīd al-Dīn and the Shāhnāmeh”, JRAS 26/1-2 (2016), 201-14; “The end of the Ilkhanate and after. Observations on the collapse of the Mongol World Empire”, in Bruno de Nicola & Charles Melville (eds), The Mongols’ Middle East: Continuity and Transformation in Ilkhanid Iran (Leiden, 2016), 309-35, and “The illustration of the Turko-Mongol era in the Berlin Diez albums”, in Julia Gonnella, Friedrike Weis & Christoph Rauch (eds), The Diez Albums. Contexts and contents (Leiden, 2016), 221-42.

Practical information

The masterclass is organized by the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University. The masterclass is open only to MA, MA research and PhD students. To register and receive all readings, please contact Dr Elena Paskaleva at: e.g.paskaleva@hum.leidenuniv.nl

In conjunction with this masterclass, Charles Melville will provide a lecture - read more

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