Category: Islamic world

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 3

 

This post is the third in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff and student catalogers in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.
Written by Logan Heiman

The Stuart Cary Welch South Asian Photograph Collection is a collection of over 60,000 35mm slide images of Islamic and Indian art, which documents artworks from the most prominent civilizations in the Islamicate world spanning the deserts of Uzbekistan all the way through to the Himalayas and onward to the Indian subcontinent. The credit for this collection belongs to its namesake. Stuart Cary Welch made use of his far-flung connections and influence as a renowned curator and art historian to document previously difficult-to-access artworks produced over the course of a millennium. While the Welch collection encompasses artworks of various forms and media in addition to architectural works, painted manuscripts constitute the heart of its contents.

Under the Mughal emperors such as Akbar (reigned 1556–1605), Jahangir (reigned 1605–1627), and Shah Jahan (reigned 1605–1627), royal patronage of the arts produced a great number of paintings, poetry, and exquisite manuscripts chronicling the sumptuous wealth and splendor of the court with its attendant rituals and ceremonies. Such manuscripts displayed the cosmopolitanism and erudition of the emperors for whom they were commissioned. This was also a golden age for Mughal architecture, particularly under Shah Jahan, who commissioned several large monuments including Taj Mahal.[i]

 

 

This detached folio from the Jahangirnameh (Memoirs of Jahangir) in the Aga Khan Museum depicts Jahangir appearing before his subjects from a jharoka, or balcony during the darshan ceremony, evoking the royal style of Hindu kings. The darshan ceremony, initiated by Akbar during his reign, emphasized the illuminating power of the emperor through ritual performance.[ii]

 

 

Other images convey not only the trappings of imperial wealth in the Mughal court, but also the social arrangements and hierarchy by which the emperor distinguished himself from the nobles and the nobles from the largely Hindu subjects of the empire. Take the example of this painting at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, depicting the Emperor Jahangir in the midst of a darbar. A darbar served an array of purposes including formal discussions of affairs of state and royal ceremonies. Here, Jahangir is seen in an audience hall surrounded by his son Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) and grandson Prince Shah Shuja, along with courtiers. The position of the courtiers flanking the emperor denotes their privileged status following the strict protocol governing such ceremonies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another defining feature of Mughal paintings is their striking realism. A painting from the Johnson Album housed in the British Library exemplifies the commitment of commissioned artists to extraordinary detail and naturalism. Jahangir championed this particular style, as reflected in this painting that depicts a hunter scaling a tree. The hunter, whose eyes are set on squirrels high up in the branches, is at the bottom of the tall tree with no shoes. His expression is determined and his right foot is already in climbing action. But, the squirrels above already know that he has no chance. They are going on with their usual business, ignoring the man below. The depictions of squirrels show that the artist spent quite a long time studying them, such that he could accurately capture their busy activities and movements during the autumn season.

 

 

 

 

 

The aforementioned images provide just a small glimpse of the artwork documented by Stuart Cary Welch during his long, path-breaking career. Works from the Mughal Empire have been showcased here, and future blog posts will cover the many other empires and societies in which these artworks were generated.

 

[i] Mughal Empire on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mughal_Empire (retrieved on 11/27/17)

[ii] Jahangir at the jharoka window of the Agra Fort, folio from Jahangirnameh (Memoirs of Jahangir) from Aga Khan Museum’s website: https://www.agakhanmuseum.org/collection/artifact/jahangir-jharoka-window-agra-fort-folio-jahangirnameh-memoirs-jahangir (retrieved on 11/27/17)

 

There will be an exhibit of the Welch Collection images at the Fine Arts Library at Littauer Center from January 22, 2018.

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 2

Written by Bronwen Gulkis

This post is the second in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff and student catalogers in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.

Slides on the light table

Before the widespread availability of high-quality digital images, patrons at the Fine Arts Library viewed images on 35mm film slides, strips of developed film housed in a lightweight metal, plastic, or paper frame. These could be viewed through a slide projector, or at a light table–the Fine Arts Library still has some of these tables in our Lamont location. The library also has over 607,000 slides left from these days, and most scholars and professionals would have kept their own image collections as well. However, this was not always the case. Stuart Cary Welch, the former curator of Indian and Later Islamic art at Harvard, owned a collection of approximately 65,000 slides, which he left to the Fine Arts Library. In a memorial essay for Martin Dickson, “Salute to a Coauthor,” Welch later recalled that when he began amassing his slides, a colleague of his “spurned their use as not quite honorable, akin to cheating at cards.”[1] However unorthodox his methods may have been at the time, they were eventually adopted across the field of Islamic and Indian art.

Like any analogue technology, the clarity and resolution of 35mm slides was dependent on the type of film used and the developing technique. Most of the Stuart Cary Welch collection was photographed on Kodachrome, a proprietary film and emulsion technique owned by Kodak and popular throughout the 20th century. Kodachrome was prized for its archival qualities, since the color dye was added to the film surface in layers during the developing process, allowing for greater clarity, nuance, and pigment stability. However, like all archival materials, slide images degrade over time. The Fine Arts Library staff and our team of photographers has been working to preserve these images by re-photographing the physical slide, and then editing this digital image to restore and their original color balance.

Slides also fostered a unique collaborative way of working. Welch recalled that Martin Dickson, a professor of Persian Studies at Princeton, “underwent trial by color slide” in 1960 upon first visiting the Welch residence to discuss the project that became The Houghton Shahnama.[2]  Veterans of the Fine Arts Library will recall a time when professors prepared for their lectures by sorting slides side by side on a light table and loading them into a carousel. Welch collected images from across America, Europe, the Middle East, and India, and then manually reconstructed manuscripts and artistic communities by grouping dispersed images in the same carousels. As we inventory Welch’s slides, we often come across these carousels, filled with images from his publications and lectures.

Today, it is so easy to access high-quality digital images that we forget the meticulous processes that earlier scholars went through to assemble their image collections. Now that 35mm slide technology is no longer in use, these slides become artifacts of a formative period in the discipline of art history. Our next post will cover some of the treasures of this exciting research collection.

 

 

 

[1] Welch, Stuart Cary. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1990, 9.

[2] Welch 1990, 14.

 

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection: Part I

This post is the first in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff and student catalogers in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.

Written by Alejandra Dean

In the basement of Lamont Library, a little-known collection is poised to make big contributions to the field of art history. Behind the neatly stacked boxes of microfilm reels and shelves of government documents lining the library’s D-level, a small, tucked-away office provides access to some of the world’s most treasured artworks. Beginning in May of 2017, Lamont’s Room D-10 was transformed to accommodate a collection of over 60,000 35mm slide images of Islamic and Indian art. The collection totals enough to fit 60 small moving boxes and previously belonged to the eminent 20th century scholar Stuart Cary Welch. Cary Welch’s slides were donated to Harvard as part of his estate in 2014, and now a team of students and library staff are working together to unveil this hidden legacy to a larger global audience.

This post inaugurates a new blog series written by the Welch project’s staff and student catalogers. Posts will contextualize how such a unique corpus of images made its way to the Harvard Fine Arts Library and will provide insight into what it’s like to prepare 65,000 slides for a new virtual existence online. To date, upwards of 10,000 Welch slides have already been scanned and published as digital images free to browse and download on Artstor.

But before we start taking a behind-the-scenes look at this process, it’s important to shed some light on the project’s raison d’être: Stuart Cary Welch himself. Known for his role as a curator at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art (from 1979-1987) and Harvard’s Fogg Museum (from 1956-1995), Cary Welch was one of the first art historians in the United States to promote the study of Islamic and Indian art. In his own words:

“Because no courses in Persian or Indian painting were given at Harvard (or elsewhere) during the 1950s, my path to knowledge was autodidactive, through travel and study of collections. This enjoyable program was catalyzed by building an archive of 35mm Kodachrome slides, oddly an innovative practice at that time.”[1]

It may or may not have come as a surprise to Welch, then, that his ‘innovative practice’ would become internationally mainstream over the next few decades. During the second half of the 20th century, university art history departments adopted the use of slides as a pedagogical tool. When digital media replaced analog image technology in the 1990s, these pre-information age collections started to take on new didactic roles beyond the classroom. So what exactly are 35mm slides, how were they used, and why are they important today? Our next post will more closely examine this fascinating film format.

[1] Cary Welch, Stuart. 1990. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press.

Travels in Arabia Deserta

Damascus, the street called “Straight”. HSM.CC:0501.

 

“It is the true Arabia … there can never be another picture of the whole, in our time, because here it is all said, and by a great master”  T. E. Lawrence

Setting off from Damascus in 1876, Charles Doughty travelled for 21 months across the deserts of Arabia, through regions almost entirely unknown to Western eyes. He faced many hazards, from malnutrition and heat exhaustion to attack by hostile Wahhabi communities. Initially he travelled with the Hajj, before venturing into the desert interior alongside a Bedouin family and other nomadic groups. He reached the city of Unayzah, in central Arabia, and finally arrived at the Red Sea port of Jeddah in 1878.

His account of this remarkable journey is considered to be one of the finest travel books in the English language and inspired T. E. Lawrence’s excursions thirty years later. Despite its abundant merits, it was little known until Lawrence became its most avid and practical reader, using it as a guide during his travels across Arabia and admiring its descriptions of a bygone way of life. Lawrence provided a preface to the 3rd edition, published in 1921.

The Folio Society has recently published a new edition of Travels in Arabia Deserta. The new edition includes a preface by the author and politician Rory Stewart, in addition to Lawrence’s tribute.  Stewart underlines the importance of Doughty’s achievement, saying that “no one who is seriously interested in travel or Arab custom, or indeed the extremity of human experience, can afford to ignore this book”.

While the original edition was illustrated with line drawings, the new version also includes 48 photographs from the period, selected from the collections of the Fine Arts Library.  These images, from our extensive holdings of photographs by the Maison Bonfils, provide a new visual context for Doughty’s travels.  Creating digital files for the publication gave us the opportunity to include a few more of these evocative images in VIA, Harvard’s online image catalog.

 

A Medieval Islamic Bestiary

We have a new addition to the Fine Arts Library’s collection of facsimile editions of illuminated manuscripts. The facsimile in this case reproduces the  Kitāb al-Manāfi‘ al-Ḥayawān (The Book on the Usefulness of Animals), a collection of texts classifying and describing the varieties of wild and domestic animals, compiled by the medieval Arab scholar Ibn al-Durayhim al-Mawṣilī (1312-1361) and illustrated during his lifetime with 91 miniatures, probably in Mamluk Syria.

 

 

The work is of great importance for the history of Islamic painting, since it is one of the few illustrated codices of the Mamluk period that can be securely dated and linked to a known author. The autograph manuscript is held by the Royal Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, near Madrid, Spain. No other copies are known.

 

 

 

This full facsimile edition of Ibn al-Durayhim’s Book on the Usefulness of Animals, accompanied by a scholarly translation of the text by Carmen Ruiz Bravo, was issued in 1990 by a small Spanish publisher that went out of business soon thereafter. As a result, few copies of this facsimile made their way into the collections of academic and research libraries. Only one copy is recorded outside of Spain, and until the Fine Arts Library acquired its copy none were held by institutions in North America.

A Boston merchant-adventurer and his illustrated souvenir of the Smyrna trade, ca. 1838

One of the Fine Arts Library’s most unusual recent acquisitions is a lovely little volume of hand-colored engravings and lithographs. The volume consists of 25 plates depicting people and places in Turkey, Greece and the Levant. Once we had the book in hand, we were faced with the problem of how to record this new addition in the library’s catalog.

The illustrations in the book are accompanied by captions in French, Ottoman Turkish and Greek. Each plate is signed by the engraver Eugenio Fulgenzi and the printer Raffaele Fulgenzi of Smyrna (now called Izmir, Turkey) and is dated, 1836 – 1838.  Pasted inside the front cover of the book is a label with the printer’s name and address: Lithographie & Taille douce Fulgenzi & fils, graveurs.

But the book lacks a title page. It’s sometimes possible to identify a book by means other than the title. However, a search of online library catalogs in North America and Europe turned up nothing that matched the date, subject and physical dimensions of our new acquisition, or the name Fulgenzi.

After a great deal of searching, a specialized bibliography in the Fine Arts Library’s reference collection, René Colas, Bibliographie générale du costume et de la mode… (Paris, 1933) supplied a title for our mystery volume: Collection de costumes civils et militaires, scènes populaires, et vues de l’Asie-Mineure. Further research has revealed a handful of references in the works of authors who evidently had seen and studied these engravings by the Fulgenzis. But it appears that our copy of this rare work is the only one recorded in any research library’s collection.

Lithography was introduced in the Ottoman Empire in 1831 and only a handful of works appeared in the first decade, which puts this little volume by Eugenio and Raffaele Fulgenzi of Smyrna among the earliest books illustrated with lithographs to be published in Turkey.

Immediately above the printer’s label on the inside cover of our copy of the book is the bold ex-libris signature of the book’s owner, Th. W. Langdon, and the number 27.  One can also make out the name Langdon faintly inscribed over the printer’s label.  That has made it possible to identify the book’s original owner and to make an educated guess as to how such a book might have made it to New England, where it turned up at a book fair 170 years later.

Thomas Walley Langdon (1783-1861) and his brother John were Boston merchants, who were among the first Americans to embark upon the profitable Smyrna trade.  In 1820, John Langdon sent his son Joseph to Smyrna to act as an agent for himself and his brother. The venture was a profitable one for both brothers. Coffee, sugar, indigo, rum, and furs from the New World were traded for dried fruits, spices, sponges, Turkish carpets, mohair yarn and Smyrna silk.

The owner of this book, Thomas Langdon remained actively engaged in the Smyrna trade for many years. He married late in life and had no children of his own. He may have brought this volume home to New England as a souvenir of his travels. Meanwhile his nephew Joseph settled in Smyrna and married a local girl. Joseph Langdon’s great-great-grandson, Tom Rees, tells the fascinating story of the Langdons of Boston and Smyrna in his book, Merchant Adventurers in the Levant : Two British Families of Privateers, Consuls and Traders 1700-1950 (Stawell, 2003).