Department of Religious Studies

“Seeing the Light: Polyvalent Iconographies at Three Medieval Syrian Shrines”

Tue, November 3, 2009 | Texas Union Governor's Room (3.116)

4:00 PM

The Workshop on Late Antiquity presents:

“Seeing the Light: Polyvalent Iconographies at Three Medieval Syrian Shrines”
a talk by Stephennie Mulder, Department of Art and Art History

To what degree is the function and reception of iconography universal? Or, to be more precise, did medieval Islamic iconography express meaning in the way scholars have argued it did in the Western art historical tradition, or were aesthetic signs understood and apprehended in some different way by medieval Muslims? The object will be to think about this larger question through the lens of something concrete and specific: namely, the “mihrab image,” a term used to describe a common decorative motif in Islamic art.  Traditionally, such images have been interpreted as symbolic representations of the light of God.  

However, three medieval Syrian examples of the “mihrab image” demonstrate how this well-known symbol may have had shifting, ambiguous and polyvalent meanings, that both encompassed and extended beyond this typical interpretation: for such signs could be read as carrying meaning for members of both Islam’s primary sects, Sunni and Shi’a.  This analysis of the “mihrab image” shows that within Islamic art, aesthetic signs can be the simultaneous carrier of meanings both specific and universal.

Stephennie Mulder is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History.

For more information on the Workshop on Late Antiquity, contact: Na’ama Pat-El,

Sponsored by: Center and Department for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Department of Religious Studies

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