Between confrontation and collaboration - Christian-Muslim relations and material culture
Professor James Allan, Academic Adviser to CMCS and retired Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean
On 18th January, 2018, CMCS welcomed over 20 friends andguests to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to attend a public lecture given by Professor James Allan, Academic Adviser to CMCS and retired Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean.
The lecture was part of a series linked to the Ashmolean’s ‘Imagining the Divine’ exhibition. It was well attended by nearly 100 people, including the CMCS guests. Professor Allan looked at the way surviving works of art and architecture reflected relations between Christians and Muslims around the Mediterranean between the 7th and 15th centuries.
Under the heading of “Conquest” it considered the way great religious buildings (e.g. those of Damascus and Cordova) and coinages were used to demonstrate the superiority of the relevant faith. The lecture moved next to “Booty”, and the use of captured spoils of war (e.g. the Pisa griffin, or the Gothic portal from Acre). Briefly touching on “Pilgrimage”, it then moved on to “Artisans for all”, and the way in which Christian and Muslim artisans produced works of art or architecture for patrons of both faiths (e.g. Fatimid lustre; Ayyubid metalwork; manuscripts and architecture). The Cappella Palatina in Palermo was used to illustrate Roger II of Sicily as a “Visionary (or Strategic) Ruler”, and the lecture moved on to “Gifts, and the European taste for the exotic”, illustrated by objects such as the Khusrau Cup, the reliquary of St. Petroc, and the chasuble of Thomas Becket. “Trade” followed, touching on Crusader coinages, the Sirce Limani shipwreck, Pisan bacini, Mamluk metalwork, Iznik pottery, and carpets. “Art by adoption and adaption”, was illustrated by polycandela, Mamluk blazons and Mudejar art and architecture. The lecture’s final section focussed on Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman ruler who took Constantinople from Byzantine control, as an example of the role of “Personal Taste”.
In conclusion, it was suggested that the only real interaction between the members of the different faiths was in the artisan class, who shared a common visual culture, often worked side by side, and made and decorated goods for people of both communities.
Following the lecture CMCS guests were invited for a private tour of the ‘Imagining the Divine’ exhibition. Several CMCS staff members also attended, including Dr Ida Glaser and Dr David Coffey, whose visit from the US to Oxford fortuitously coincided with this event.