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Luisa Nardini, Director MBE 3.602, Mailcode E3100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-2069

Stephennie Mulder

Assistant Professor Ph.D.

MDV 392M • Islamic Ornament

41365 • Fall 2014
Meets M 1000am-100pm ART 3.432
(also listed as MEL 380, MES 386 )
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Islamic art is famous for its tradition of ornamented surfaces, while Western art has often used ornament primarily to highlight or enhance the impact of an image. This course is a comparative study of the role of ornament, which takes as its founding premise that both Islamic and European art emerged from the same Late Antique visual milieu: in which abstract, geometric, and vegetal ornament played a key, (though often neglected) role. The study of ornament has a long and important history in art and design, but with the advent of modernism, ornament was deemed ethically suspect and inimical to art’s higher purposes. Nevertheless, in the past few decades, under the aegis of postmodern theory, ornament has assumed a renewed significance. We will explore multiple scholars’ perspectives on ornament: its practical function and creation, its ability to transform surfaces and thereby change their reception and meaning, and its role as a semiotic device and broader social function as a marker of class, faith, or exoticism.

An important proposal we will explore is the idea that ornament is not mere “decoration,” but rather has a rich functional and symbolic role to play in the human response to and understanding of art. With this role in mind, a key skill students will acquire in this course is the ability to make a visual analysis of a work of art whose primary feature is its ornament. What is the place of abstraction, and when and how is it employed? To what degree may we say ornament is linked to the natural world, especially vegetal ornament? How, in Islamic art, does writing function as ornament? What is phenomenological promise of ornament, its role in the enhancement of diversion and pleasure, and how does ornament fulfill that promise? We will also explore the way in which ornament has a distinctly transient role, how it is often associated with a conception of the “exotic” and as such, tends to move fluidly across boundaries of medium, culture, and society. Examples of this transience range from the reception in Islamic lands of medieval Chinese porcelain, to medieval Europe’s hungry market for elaborately decorated Islamic metalwork and textiles. 

Class Requirements:

Attendance and participation Periodic presentations of readings Presentation of research project to class at end of semester Research paper on topic of your choosing (15-20 pgs.)

Required Texts:

Ernst Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, (New York, 1979). James Trilling, The Language of Ornament, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001).

MDV 392M • The Islamic City

40995 • Fall 2010
Meets F 900am-1200pm ART 3.432
(also listed as MES 390 )
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This seminar  will explore the morphology & sociology of cities in Islamic history, using primary texts & architectural/archaeological data to identify & analyze the primary factors shaping civic forms & structures.  We will examine a variety of individual cities, from fiat cities planned by Caliphal decree to those that developed on top of some of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited urban centers.  We will probe how medieval Muslims themselves conceptualized, understood, & represented their cites, both textually & visually.  We will also critically examine the idea of the “Islamic City” as it evolved in the West, from the earliest observations of 19th-century Orientalist scholars & Muslim reformers to contemporary academic formulations.  We will ask how & why the framework of the Islamic City might still be relevant, over 1400 years after the advent of this world-encompassing faith. 



To be provided by the instructor.



To be provided by the instructor.


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