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John and Berthe Ford Annual Lecture: Collaboration and Creativity in Islamic Art


Sunday, April 14, 2013


02:00 PM–03:00 PM

John and Berthe Ford Annual Lecture: Collaboration and Creativity in Islamic Art

No registration required.

The Western myth of the solitary artist-genius—Michelangelo alone on his back on a scafford high in the Sistine chapel, the unappreciated Van Gogh in his tiny room in Arles, Chardin alone with his bowl of peaches—is of course neither accurate nor particularly illuminating  either of artists or of art.  But the idea of artistic collaboration, ever since the Renaissance, often leaves us both apprehensive and uncomfortable.

Given our obsession with the artistic and monetary value of the work of the solitary genius, all those scarpellini working with Bellini, all those pesky pupils of Rembrandt putting their paint on his paintings, or the inconvenient block-cutters who took Durer’s drawings and made them into woodcuts, complicate not only the art-historical record but often create chaos in the art marketplace. Raphael's tapestry cartoons are virtually worshipped as the "Parthenon sculptures of modern art," but who remembers Pieter van Aelst or the tapestries themselves?

In the Islamic world, where the differentiation of the artist's role from that of other craftsmen was sometimes blurry, and otherwise practically nonexistent, collaborative works of art are both common and often indeed counted among the greatest masterpieces. In this talk Professor Denny will explore differing cultural expectations of "greatness" in art, and the various collaborative practices existing in the art of the Islamic world, especially after the establishment of the first royal design ateliers in the fifteenth century CE.

About the Speaker
Walter B. Denny is a scholar, author, educator and widely recognized expert on Islamic art, ceramics of the Ottoman Empire, and oriental carpets. He is professor of art history and adjunct professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Throughout his fifty-year career, Denny’s research, publications and teaching have helped cement the importance of textiles alongside other media in Islamic art history. In addition to Islamic carpets and textiles, Denny’s specialties include the study of the art and architecture of the Islamic world, in particular the artistic traditions of the Ottoman Turks, Islamic imagery in European art, and issues of economics and patronage in Islamic art. Walter has served as a Trustee of The Textile Museum (Washington) and was for three decades Honorary Curator of Carpets and Textiles at the Harvard University Art Museums in Cambridge. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Turkish Studies and serves as Charles Grant Ellis Research Fellow in Oriental Carpets at The Textile Museum. He is active as a lecturer and as a consultant to museums and other institutions in the United States and abroad.

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