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Nomads and Demons: The Painted Lives in the “Muhammad Siyah Qalam” Corpus in Central Asia

Thursday, November 17, 2022 at 12:00pm

Virtual Event

Talk by Nicoletta Fazio

The word muraqqa‘ (lit. patchwork) indicates a composite album containing a vast array of material from both contemporary artists and past masters. The early Timurid albums are treasure troves for the study of artistic practices of professional painters in Iran and Central Asia at the turn of the 9th century AH. In particular, the albums H.2153 and H.2160 in Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi preserve a unique corpus of paintings that have enthralled scholars until today. Attributed to a phantomatic painter named “Muhammad Siyah Qalam”, they depict, in strong and vibrant manners, scenes of nomadic life in Central Asia, sufi gatherings, and supernatural beings (either jinn or demons). They have been dated between the end of the 8th century AH and the second half of the 9th century AH and feature peculiar iconographies that will not be replicated in the following centuries. Differences in style show that they are the work of different artists, who have presumably drawn from the rich and diverse artistic heritage of the Silk Road (from Iran up to Tibet and China) to create these puzzling images. Based on previous research of mine, this seminar aims to be an open discussion, presenting this painting corpus to reflect on their iconographies and propose some interpretative readings vis-à-vis to the most recent scholarship.   

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Comparative Muslim Societies Program



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