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ABBASID LUSTERWARE AND THE AESTHETICS OF ʿAJAB

In: Muqarnas Online
Author:
MATTHEW D. SABA
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Scholarship on the luster-painted ceramics produced in Iraq during the high Abbasid Period (ninth and tenth centuries) has traditionally emphasized the stylistic differences among the assemblage most perceptible to art historians today, such as the use of figural versus non-figural imagery, pointing to a change in taste over time. Few studies, however, ask how these objects would have appeared to the audiences for whom they were produced. What did people in Abbasid Iraq expect from a work of craft and what formal qualities were most salient? To what extent are these documented interests resonant with the development of lusterware in the Abbasid Period? In this essay, I argue that the whole range of types possesses visible characteristics that fulfil a significant aesthetic expectation held for works of craft in Abbasid Iraq: that they produce an experience of pleasurable wonder for the beholder, known as ‘ajab in Arabic. Through defining an “aesthetics of ‘ajab,” I suggest that the ostensible differences among the assemblage often emphasized in art-historical scholarship may not have been as significant to Abbasid-period viewers.

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