Openwork in Early Islamic Metalwork from Khorasan and Transoxiana

Faculty/Professorship: Fakultät Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Rašīdī, Kūruš
By: Rashidi, Kourosh 
Publisher Information: Bamberg : Otto-Friedrich-Universität
Year of publication: 2020
Pages: 170 ; Illustrationen
Supervisor(s): Korn, Lorenz  ; Müller-Wiener, Martina
Year of first publication: 2019
Language(s): English
Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2019
DOI: 10.20378/irb-48855
Licence: Creative Commons - CC BY - Attribution 4.0 International 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-irb-488559
Metalwork from Khorasan is a well-known magnitude in the history of Islamic art. Thanks to the large number of metal objects from this region, and due to the studies carried out on them over the past years, the ‘bronzes’ from Khorasan are firmly inscribed in the history of Islamic art. In many respects, it can be called exceptional what metalworkers of Khorasan of the Islamic period inherited from their predecessors and transformed according to new conditions. Through the first Islamic centuries until the Mongol invasion, they developed particular styles and methods in metalwork. The qualities that result from the techniques used in making these objects, as well as the creation of designs and motifs that were applied to decorate these vessels, render the bronzes from Khorasan unmistakable. The achievements of metalworkers of Khorasan are hardly matched elsewhere in the Islamic world. Over the past years, some scholarly studies have appeared which focus on metalwork in Khorasan and Transoxiana during the Islamic era, particularly before the Mongol conquest. The combined results of these studies shed light on different aspects of metalwork, dividing it into coherent groups in terms of techniques of craftsmanship, types of decorations, courses of craftsmanship, and materials used. Meanwhile, only a small part of those works that are preserved today in museums and collections come from archaeological excavations. Also, very few of these works bear an exact date. Therefore, attributions of these works in space and time have been determined in a comparative way, and this, in turn, has led to ambiguities that necessitate a re-examination of chronological and spatial categorizing. The present research attempts to re-examine the geographic attribution and the dating of a small number of works, and to establish the validity of this type of categorizing more comprehensively. The range of Islamic metal objects that are grouped under the name of Khorasan bronzes is in fact very wide with regard to typological and stylistic characteristics. This provokes the question whether all of these objects can actually be attributed to Khorasan? It could also be possible that the metalworking industry of Khorasan exerted such a strong influence in the wider region that other areas were affected, especially neighbouring areas such as Transoxiana. Is it not likely that part of what is already known as Khorasan metalworking has been produced in adjacent areas such as Transoxiana? There is no easy answer to this question, since the relationship between Khorasan and Transoxiana has not always been that of two distinct landscapes, with regard to either political boundaries or cultural characteristics, through the early Islamic period, i. e. from the Arabic-Islamic conquests of the 7th-8th centuries until the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. At times, Arabic geographical literature counted important cities of southern Transoxiana such as Bukhara and Samarqand as parts of Khorasan, while others described Transoxiana as a geographical unit of its own. In the field of metalwork and other art, the regional differentiation between Khorasan and Transoxiana has been carried forward in recent studies by Islamic art historians, so that significant groups of metalwork have been attributed to one of the regions; so that their belonging to Khorasan is considered an indisputable fact. There is no doubt that some of the most splendid metal objects of the Islamic world were produced in Khorasan, with the city of Herat as one centre of production. As a contrast, the role of Transoxiana has usually been overlooked or underestimated. Therefore, it seems necessary to re-evaluate the evidence and look at those factors that have not been taken into account so far. For example, in the process of classifying and identifying, decorations have usually not been addressed as much as the overall forms and shapes of objects. However, changes in the decorations and their execution on the metalwork of these areas clearly show a lively development and testify to the creativity of metalworkers. Some of these types of decorations can be termed as a particular style and methods of fabrication can be seen as hallmarks of certain groups. These may be identified with regional traditions. In this context, openwork decoration constitutes a very important feature. It allows to classify certain groups of these objects according to their technique of production and according to particular motifs that were selected for ornamentation. There is a large number of metal objects decorated with openwork in various collections and museums of Islamic art. The oil lamp and the lamp stand kept in the Linden Museum in Stuttgart with the inventory number A41251 form particularly impressive examples, not only in terms of their size, but also for their elegant shape and the fine execution of their decoration. The two objects are exhibited together in the museum, and previous studies that have so far been carried out on them have assumed that they belong together and represent a set. As described below, large expanses of the surfaces of both the oil lamp and the lampstand are decorated with openwork. The primary goal of the present study is to re-examine these two objects, focusing on the openwork decorations, to identify the type of motifs that were used and to establish the context from which these motifs originated. In this regard, it attempts to compare them with similar objects including incense burners, oil lamps, pots, lamp stands, etc., including fragments of such objects, which are displayed in various museums. A number of these objects are kept in the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz), in the Linden Museum (Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) in Stuttgart, and in the Bumiller Collection (Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst) in Bamberg. Twenty-nine of these were studied directly, to form a major part of the material basis for the present study, together with the oil lamp and the lampstand at the Linden Museum. Besides, comparable objects in other collections of Islamic art were also studied. Among these, objects kept in the Louvre, the David Collection in Copenhagen, the National Museum of Iran, the Reza Abbasi Museum in Tehran, the Great Khorasan Museum in Mashhad, and the Benaki Museum in Athens were also carefully examined. Other objects are located in various museums in North America and other parts of the world, where direct viewing was not possible. These objects were studied through the available literature. As mentioned above, the ultimate goal of this study is to attribute the two objects at the Linden Museum to their cultural context on the basis of these comparisons. At the same time, it should also help classifying groups of metal objects that are decorated in a similar way with the characteristic use of openwork. The contents of this study is presented in five chapters. In the first chapter, the oil lamp and the lampstand at the Linden Museum are described. In chapters two and three, the motifs of decoration of the lamp and the lampstand are traced back to other contexts; they are compared with other examples of metalworks with similar openwork decoration. Both chapters terminate in hypotheses on the origins of the respective objects, clarifying the differences between the lamp and lampstand. Separate from this, technical aspects of the openwork objects, and of scientific analyses of Khorasan bronzes, are dealt with in chapter 4. The results of the study are summed up in a brief concluding chapter. Appendices contain an extract of information from historical texts on region of Khorasan and Transoxiana in the early Islamic centuries, and lists of objects that were studied in the collections in Bamberg, Berlin and Stuttgart.
The present study is the result of research that was carried out at the University of Bamberg, as part of the research project titled “Khurasan – Land of the Rising Sun. A cultural landscape as a core region for the formation of the material culture of the Islamic World, with respect to its representations in collections and museums”, which was funded by the German Ministry of Education and Science in the programme on “The Language of the Object”. Parts of the study were presented in lectures at a study day in the Louvre Museum4 and at the Khorasan Conference at the Linden Museum of Stuttgart in 2016
GND Keywords: Chorasan; Transoxanien; Islamische Kunst; Metallkunst; Durchbruch; Geschichte 750-1220
Keywords: Metalwork; Openwork decorations; Bronze; Islamic metal objects; Khorasan; Transoxiana; metalworking industry of Khorasan; Islamic art and Archaeology; Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz); Linden Museum (Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) in Stuttgart; The Bumiller Collection (Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst) in Bamberg
DDC Classification: 730 Sculpture, numismatics, ceramics & metalwork  
RVK Classification: LO 80760   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Release Date: 4. November 2020

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