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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Postgraduate Course: Córdoba & Constantinople: Exchange & Competition between the Umayyad and Byzantine Courts (HIAR11104)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course, co-taught by ECA/HCA, offers a comparative introduction to two of the most splendid medieval courts, that spanned the Mediterranean between them: the Umayyad court at Córdoba and the Byzantine court in Constantinople. We trace contacts between these courts, the exchange of objects and ideas, and the ensuing cultural rivalry and competition focusing on five themes: palaces as loci of power; those living in the palaces: rulers, their wives, and their courtiers (bearded, eunuchs); visitors from abroad: embassies and diplomatic gifts; objects and artefacts of court culture; medieval science as part of court culture.
Course description In the (later) ninth and especially tenth centuries, interimperial competition (beyond the battlefield) and diplomatic exchange between the imperial courts of the early Islamic world and at Constantinople intensified; as Abbasid rule began to weaken, especially the Andalusian Umayyad court at Córdoba at the far end of the Mediterranan emerged as an ever closer contact for the Byzantine emperors. Embassies went to and fro, and with the ambassadors and their retinues, objects and ideas travelled, too.

From a firmly comparative perspective, this course brings to life the courts at Córdoba and Constantinople and traces their diplomatic interactions and the cultural competition that ensued, before long, between them. Approaching these courts comparatively allows us to identify common features of early Islamic and Byzantine, and more generally medieval, court culture, and to throw the idiosyncracies of each culture into sharp relief. While the focus will be on Córdoba and Constantinople, further comparative glances will be thrown at other courts and cultures, especially the Abbasid court at Baghdad and courts of the Latin Middle Ages.

The course is organised into five units, each lasting two weeks. The first week of each unit is dedicated to Córdoba, and the second to Constantinople. After an introduction that sets the ninth and tenth century Mediterranean scene, you will (1) start by studying the architecture and layout of palace buildings across the medieval Islamic and Byzantine worlds as loci of power, conceived and furnished as palatial stages for the lavish ceremonies that played out in them; (2) learn about the conditions of life in the palaces by looking closely at some of those who lived and worked in them: rulers and their wives, (bearded) courtiers and eunuchs in particular; (3) follow the embassies that went from Córdoba to Constantinople and vice versa and study, via the gifts they traded and the messages encoded therein, the language of medieval diplomacy; (4) closely analyze examples of artefacts and manuscripts produced for wealthy patrons at either court; (5) and, finally, explore the roles learning and science played at both the Islamic and Byzantine courts and, especially, in their vying for cultural superiority.

The course introduces you to comparative historical analysis and to interpreting visual, material, and textual evidence from the medieval Islamic and Byzantine worlds. A visit to the National Museum of Scotland, to examine medieval Islamic and Byzantine artefacts, is part of this course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Apply analysis of visual and textual materials to the problem of medieval artistic and other cultural exchanges across confessional boundaries
  2. Express themselves orally and in writing with insight, originality and creativity, to interdisciplinary academic audiences
  3. Compare and appraise imperial practices in Islamic and Christian contexts, based on the critical assessment of visual and textual sources for early medieval Byzantine and Islamic courts
Reading List
Anderson, Glaire D. 2018. The Islamic villa in early medieval Iberia: architecture and court culture in Umayyad Córdoba.

Dodds, Jerrilynn Denise. 1992. Al-Andalus: the art of Islamic Spain. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Evans, Helen C. 2015. Age of transition: Byzantine culture in the Islamic world.

Evans, Helen C., and William D. Wixom. 1997. The glory of Byzantium: art and culture of the Middle Byzantine era : A.D. 843-1261. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gaul, Niels, Volker Menze and Csanád Bálint. 2018. Center, Province and Periphery in the Age of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos From De Ceremoniis to De Administrando Imperio. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Maguire, Henry. 1997. Byzantine Court Culture: From 829 to 1204. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Through close analysis of visual and textual sources available to scholars of Byzantium and Islamic civilization, and through discussion of lectures and the secondary scholarship, students in the course will enhance their understanding of medieval imperial exchanges across religious boundaries, and will be able to engage effectively with others within an interdisciplinary academic context.

By learning and applying advanced skills in research and enquiry in medieval Byzantine and Islamic art history studies, students will identify and explore a key chapter in medieval cross-cultural contact, from an informed international perspective

Course organiserDr Glaire Anderson
Course secretaryMrs Anna Johns
Tel: (0131 6)51 5740
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