2016 - 2017

  The Fabulous: Ajaib in Islamic Art & Culture  
Lev Arie KapitaikinMexico - Arts200 1200-1600 Sem  1
University credit hours:  4.0

Course description

Jinns imprisoned in bottles, sea-monsters, and giant birds rescuing shipwrecked sailors were part of "the wondrous" in Islamic art and culture called "ʿAjāʾib" in Arabic. The description of such wonders was popularized since the 9th century in geographical travel-literature, as well as in folkloristic sailors' tales, to crystallize later-on into adventures of Sindbad the Sailor in the "Thousand and One Nights". Imperial Islam has devised a "Proto-Orientalist" approach which locates the wondrous and the exotic in liminal regions, like Indian Ocean islands, India and China, Africa, and the Northern countries. One encounters visual imagery of "ʿAjāʾib" in the "Wonders of Creation" genre, which were universal encyclopedias during the 12th-16th centuries accompanied by extensive cycles of colourful illustrations masterpieces of Islamic painting and imagination in all periods. Yet in contrast to the modern conception of "the fantastic", in Islam the "wondrous" had a concrete and integral role to play in the universe, as manifesting Allah's omnipotence within it. For precisely that reason, the Persian encyclopedists, Ṭūsī and Qazwīnī, systematically catalogued "ʿAjāʾib", making them accessible to the reader by the means of appealing illustrations. Yet beyond the accumulation of intellectual knowledge, fabulous buildings and objects, like the copper-city of king Solomon or Alexander's the Great lighthouse, were ascribed magical and talismanic powers to mediate between humans and superpowers, God, angels and demons; so that images of "ʿAjāʾib" were also popularized on utilitarian and exotic objects traded across the Islamic world. Our seminar shall explore the place of the "wondrous" within medieval Muslim culture, literature, and art utilizing image-text-beholder relations, as well as theoretical and comparative approaches of reception. 


accessibility declaration

tel aviv university