4.616
Antiquity and the Formation of Islamic Architecture—Selected Topics on Culture and Architecture

Permission of Instructor, seminar is open to advanced undergraduates

In a remarkable book, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity, Garth Fowden noted, “"There are roads out of Antiquity that do not lead to the Renaissance". This powerful statement challenges the dominant art historical narrative, which posits the West as the only heir to the classical tradition, and opens the door for other artistic cultures that share the descent from Antiquity—like the Islamic culture— to reclaim their heritage.

In this seminar, we will study Early Islamic, or Umayyad, Architecture and its relationship to Antiquity in depth. We will examine the sequence of well-known Umayyad monuments, which appear to have engaged in a vibrant referencing exercise that treated Antiquity as a model to copy, build upon, or, sometimes, to deconstruct. Thus we can begin to understand the patterns of appropriation, modification, transposition, scaling, and distortion of post-classical elements in Umayyad architecture as a conscious process to chart a new, or, perhaps more accurately, a post Post-Classical architecture. In other words, Umayyad architecture was one road out of Antiquity that did not lead to the Renaissance.