Integrating the Medieval Iberian Peninsula and North Africa in Islamic Architectural History

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Abstract / Description of output

How do Islamic art survey texts present the architecture of the Islamic West, and how does this presentation shape the perception of the Maghrib in university classrooms? Examining the Great Mosque of Qayrawān and the Great Mosque of Cordoba as they appear in four representative and widely used art history survey texts, this article argues that a common art historical narrative characterises the art of early medieval North Africa as ultimately derivative of and artistically inferior to the art of early Islamic Iraq, Egypt, and the Iberian Peninsula. The article points to a shared chronological moment, which witnessed the expansion of the Cordoba prayer hall during the reign of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān II and several building projects undertaken around the same time by the Aghlabid emirs of Ifrīqiya. Examining these two building programmes in relation to one another leads to different conclusions about these monuments of the Islamic West than are offered in the art history texts, which privilege formalist readings. The article proposes the utility of a pan-Straits approach emphasising specific contexts (historical, political, religious, social, and artistic) within the Islamic West in addressing the problematic issues raised by this narrative. Such an approach, especially if combined with critical studies of the colonial structures that informed early scholarship on the Islamic West, may offer a means for the discipline to re-evaluate the place of the Maghrib in the larger history of Islamic art. It may also provide a means to move beyond problematic inherited discourses of Islamic art history and its canon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-92
JournalThe Journal of North African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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