Islamic Art

Islamic art history is a rapidly expanding field, both in its purview, and institutionally. Its traditional purview was already quite broad, encompassing the artistic traditions of predominantly Muslim societies, from the 7th century to the 18th, and from Spain to India. But in recent years, the field has increasingly also addressed the modern and post-modern artistic legacies of colonialism and globalization, whether in the Middle East, or in the diaspora. As recently as the 1980's, Islamic art history was taught at only a handful of universities. But since the year 2000, more than 20 universities in America alone have added it to their regular course offerings; this is paralleled by growing institutional commitment to Islamic art in museums.

The rapid expansion of the field brings to the fore the diversity of artistic traditions it includes, the variety of historical circumstances under which they emerged, and the variety of questions they pose. A random sampling of recent and current research topics in Islamic art history includes: how the grounds of public gardens relate to the changing social norms of early-modern Istanbul; what it means that collectors in the Gulf states are currently driving the market for European Orientalist paintings; how both mathematics and philosophy inform the architectural drawings and practice of medieval Iran; and the variety of factors (theological, technological, and social) that might explain the most significant formal shift in the most highly revered art of Islamic lands a shift in Qur'anic calligraphy that occurred in late tenth century Baghdad. Islamic art historians also continue to engage with the field's long-standing interest in how Islamic art of different eras and regions relates to such artistic traditions as those of the late Antique world, China, and Europe; the question arises naturally, because the Islamic lands have never existed in a vacuum.

The Islamic art history program at the University of Chicago insists on both intellectual immersion in the methodologically wide ranging discipline of art history, and on solid training in the languages and history of Islamic studies. The program is grounded in the Department of Art History, where, depending on their research interests, students' study of Islamic art is enriched by intellectual developments in fields such as medieval art, early modern art, ancient art, Asian art, and modern and contemporary art. The program also draws on the University of Chicago's unparalleled strengths in Islamic studies, concentrated in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Students are also encouraged to take relevant courses offered at neighboring institutions (Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Chicago) and to participate in relevant University workshops.