This volume edited by D. Behrens-Abouseif and S. Vernoit and dedicated to Islamic Art in the nineteenth century is a valuable contribution to a broader approach of the field. Usually, as stated in the foreword signed by the Editors, the surveys of Islamic art used the end of the nineteenth century as a limit. This means that not only the nineteenth but also the eighteenth century, as far as artistic productions are concerned, used to be neglected. Both authors underline the inventive mixture of “native traditions, new technologies and imported conventions” producing a hybridism which as been discarded for decades. Our contemporary world, deeply concerned with ongoing topics as cross-cultural interactions is more and more open to a study of this moment of strong changes in the Islamic world. What was neglected and highly condemned till a recent past was the European influence which became stronger during the seventeenth century, and culminated in the nineteenth. What could be the ground of such a rejection? The world of Islam as a whole has always been a place of encounters. It is true indeed that its glaze has been turned eastward for centuries, and that Chinese models have been highly praised. On the contrary, European art, with few exceptions, have remained virtually unknown. The aim of the essays collected in the present volume is to encapsulate, “despite a multitude of foreign influences, the notion of a definable Islamic tradition in the visual arts [. . .] in the late period.” Browsing through this publication, it appears that its original sin is probably that European influence is the only one registered by the contributors in the nineteenth-century arts of the world of Islam. Indeed the world of Islam underwent a rapid shift, concentrating on the unique or at least dominant influence in the nineteenth century: the Western one. However it would have been interesting to investigate possible Chinese or Russian influences on the artistic production in countries and regions like Iran and Central Asia, for instance.
The excellent essay by Filiz Yenişehirlioğlu (“Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Istanbul: Sultan Abdülaziz and the Beylerbeyi Palace,” 57-88) focuses on the unmatched reception by the Ottomans of European “Alhambraism” through the use of Owen Jones’s publication and Jules Goury’s drawings. It opens a perspective on the making of Orientalism in the East, and introduces the world of Islam as one of this movement’s main protagonists. On the contrary, the excellent contribution by Tim Stanley (“After Müstakim-zade,” 89-108) exemplifies the other stream of “tradition.” His essay aims at defining a proper chronology; he does so through a subtle understanding of an inner analysis of continuity and break in the art of calligraphic creation in Ottoman Istanbul. He states that the break of calligraphic tradition did not occur in the nineteenth century, but according to Turkish historians after the death of Müstakim-zade (in 1203/1788-9). Doing so, he underlines the absolute necessity to think, as deeply as possible, from inside the world of Islam. He focuses on a very crucial moment, when the appearance of printing blurred the perception of what is “classic” and what is “new” in Istanbul. The work by Habib, Hat ve hattâtân [Calligraphy and Calligraphers], was printed in 1305/1887-8. Although a tribute to the great Islamic tradition of calligraphy, it was prepared for print.
The Ottoman and Iranian worlds lie the core of the volume with no less than nine articles (besides those two mentioned, see: Tanman Mehmet Baha, “Nineteenth Century Ottoman Funerary Architecture: From Innovation to Eclectism,” 37-56, 10 ill.; Scarce Jennifer M., “Ancestral Themes in the art of Qajar Iran, 1785-1925,” 231-56, 10 ill.; Ekhtiar Maryam, “Innovation and Revivalism in Later Persian Calligraphy: the Visual Family of Shiraz,” 257-79, 11 ill.; Diba Layla S., “An Encounter between Qajar Iran and the West: The Rashtrapati Bhavan Painting of Fath ‘Ali Shah at the Hunt,” 281-304, 7 ill.; Soucek Priscilla, “The Visual Language of Qajar Medals,” 305-32, 8 ill.; Watson Oliver, “Almost Hilariously Bad: Iranian Pottery in the Nineteenth Century,” 333-62, 16 ill.; and the article by J. M. Rogers reviewed at the end of this notice), eleven if we include Mustafa Ali and Khedival Egypt (Behrens-Abouseif Doris, “The Visual Transformation of Egypt during the Reign of Muhammad ‘Ali,” 109-30, 9 ill.; Volait Mercedes, “Appropriating Orientalism? Saber Sabri’s Mamluk Revivals in Late-Nineteenth-Century Cairo,” 131-56, 10 ill.). Only two articles are dedicated to North Africa and the sub-Saharan Area (Erzini Nadia, “The Survival of Textile Manufacture in Morocco in the Nineteenth Century,” 157-90, 12 ill.; Picton John, “Keeping the Faith: Islam and West African Art History in the Nineteenth Century,” 191-230, 11 ill., 1 map), one to India (Tillotson Giles, “Architecture and Identity in Three Indian States,” 387-408, 10 ill.), the last contribution in the book being dedicated to ephemeral art produced in the Caribbean basin for the mourning of ‘Ashura (Chelkowski Peter, “Art for Twenty-Four Hours,” 409-31, 10 ill.). Six contributions deal with architecture, two are dedicated to calligraphy which appears as the main trend of continuous tradition in the world of Islam till our days; one only is strictly devoted to objects (O. Watson), and partially blurs the fact that Westernisation strongly irrigated the world of Islam through mass produced objects (French and English china and textiles). The rapid flow of mechanically reproduced image in the East is focused on by S. Vernoit and analysed, in parallel, with the introduction of book printing in the East. It would have been fair to underline that the first press was introduce in the East in Lebanon in the Qadisha Valley, in Quzhaya in 1610, though it was a rather unsuccessful essay. As to whether or not the Qadisha Valley is part of the history of the “Muslim world” as stated by S. Vernoit, it is another subject, though it certainly is part of it.
Only one article, J. M. Rogers (“Nineteenth Century Tile Work in Khiva,” 363-85, 13 ill.), concentrates on Central Asia. It is probably fair to link this fact with the first quotation made by the author of the essay on Khiva: “The history of Central Asia Khanates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is one of the least studied aspects of the Islamic East” (V. Barthold). At the same time, this article’s quality compensates this overall lacuna in the book. The perfect knowledge of Russian publications provides the author with an unparalleled range of facts and first-class information among western scholars. He brilliantly establishes a link between the stupendous tiles of the various monuments of Khiva built under the patronage of Inaqid Khans between the late eighteenth century and 1855, on the first hand, and on the second hand the monuments of Kuhna Urgench, especially the mausoleum of Najm al-Din Kubra (c. 1340). As stated by J. M. Rogers, “the Old Urgench’ connection is significant, given the late khans pretentions to descent from Khvarazmshahs and their appropriation of their titulature.” Old and new, tradition versus innovations: The article by J. M. Rogers shows that, sometimes, this question may not be relevant. The purpose of such building was inscribed in an ongoing history, the artistic principles were cleverly rooted in a fourteenth-century model, and the technical devices behind the conception of a large-scale composition were faithful to a classical tradition.
In all, the splendid book edited by D. Behrens-Abouseif and S. Vernoit is a very stimulating contribution to an intricate and serious problem of the history of the arts in the world of Islam: When does it end? If it does not provide the reader with a limited answer, it opens many perspectives for further research.