The invigorated Arabic and Persian textual traditions of the tenth to early thirteenth centuries have left us a small but important collection of descriptions of image-making, often framed within legends of painterly prowess. Images in these textual descriptions are durational, cumulative and oftenthough not exclusivelyproduced through competitive performances involving multiple artists. These medieval records of the image have often been absorbed into transhistorical theories of Islamicate image reception. However, I suggest that there is in fact a shift in the status of the image that takes place on the eve of the early modern period, prior to which we can trace a medieval fascination with image-making as process and performance that is equal toor even exceedsthe beholders share of witness and wonder at the painting as a completed artefact. Bringing together textual sources, the eight known manuscript images of the famous Nizami story of the Greek-Chinese painting competition, and objects that attest to other ontologies of the pre-modern image, this lecture goes looking for the ephemeral acts that constituted the medieval image in word and deed.
Margaret S. Graves is Associate Professor of Islamic art in the department of Art History at Indiana University. She received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2010 for her research on the plastic arts of the medieval Islamic world, and her research has been supported by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the British Academy, the Barakat Trust, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, amongst others. Her 2018 monograph Arts of Allusion: Object, Ornament and Architecture in Medieval Islam (Oxford University Press), won the International Center of Medieval Arts 2019 annual book prize and the Medieval Academy of Americas 2021 Karen Gould Prize.