One Thousand and One Ways to Sell: Marketing Decorated Books and Album Paintings from Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian Lands in Europe and America c. 1850-1950
24th September 2020, Institute of English Studies, University of London
Deadline: 1 May 2020
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw enormous expansion in the collecting of illuminated books and album paintings from Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian lands in Europe and America. Dealers, ignoring the material or cultural heritage of the items, frequently detached illuminations and calligraphy fragments from Qur’ans and single-leaf paintings from albums and manuscripts for their aesthetic appeal. The material came from varied sources, including the looted royal collections in Delhi following the British siege of 1857, and the Shah and Imperial princes of Iran following the imposition of constitutional monarchy in 1906.
The massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1896 prompted Armenian dealers to move to Paris and London, bringing massive quantities of objects, including manuscripts, to Europe. These dealers soon opened second galleries in New York to cater to the largest concentration of wealthy potential clients. To entice European and American collectors to buy, dealers highlighted orientalist themes in the miniatures and used stories such as “One Thousand and One Nights” to transport collectors to an exotic “other” place. Objects were presented in a clichéd manner in newspapers, journals, and travelogues. Exhibitions were stereotypical with romanticised courtesan salons, spice markets, camels and belly-dancers. At the same time, analogies were drawn to European art, with Mughals likened to the Medici, in order to provide a familiar interpretative framework.
This symposium will explore how dealers presented books and album paintings from Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian lands to Europe and America and the consequences of these actions. Topics covered might include, but are not limited to:
• The presentation of material to European and American audiences including the physical setting, performance, and story-telling.
• The role of orientalism in creating descriptions.
• The use of the European canon to frame accounts of art from the Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian regions.
• The importance and invocation of provenance history.
• The role of exhibitions and reproductions in creating a market for decorated manuscripts and album paintings.
Papers are invited from those working on any aspect of manuscripts or albums from the Islamic world. Abstracts of 250 words for papers of 20 minutes should be submitted to Karen Winslow (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your name and affiliation by 1 May 2020.