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Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Large areas of the world that came under Muslim sway beginning in the 7th century—notably the Iberian peninsula, North Africa, Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Central Asia—had sizeable Christian communities, and it took several centuries for Muslims to become the majority population in these regions. Christian minority communities continue to survive—and even flourish—in such regions as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Christians—as well as Jews, Zoroastrians and others—shared the visual vocabularies of their Muslim neighbors, if not their faith, and it is often difficult if not impossible to distinguish a work of “Islamic art” made for a Muslim from one made for a non-Muslim. Indeed, many of the craftsmen making “Islamic art” may have been Christians or Jews, for Islamic art has been defined as the art made by artists or artisans whose religion was Islam, for patrons who lived in predominantly Muslim lands, or for purposes that are restricted or peculiar to a Muslim population or a Muslim setting. In some times and places, Muslims and Christians violently contested the same spaces, whether during the “Reconquest” of the Iberian Peninsula or the Crusades in the Levant. Despite the bellicosity, in both cases artistic interchange created such distinctive traditions as ...

Article

In its most general sense, spolia (pl., from Lat. spolium: ‘plunder’) denotes all artifacts re-employed in secondary contexts, from building blocks reused in a wall to pagan gems mounted on a Christian reliquary. It is a matter of debate whether this broad application of the term is justified, or whether it should be restricted to the relatively small subset of reused objects that were taken or ‘stripped’ (like spoils) from their original context, rather than found, purchased, inherited or otherwise acquired by non-violent means. It is likewise debated when the use of spolia should be considered meaningful, if at all. Arnold Esch defined five possible motives for using spolia: convenience, profanation, Christianization, political legitimation and aesthetic attraction. Michael Greenhalgh has argued for reducing the motives to three (at least with regard to marble): pragmatism, aesthetics and ideology; while Finbarr Barry Flood cautioned against reductive interpretations generated by any taxonomy, insisting that reused objects are mutable in meaning and capable of multiple interpretations during their life cycle....