Silks Withdrawn: A Re-Contextualization of the Medieval Fragments from Rayy
Winter, Meredyth Lynn
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CitationWinter, Meredyth Lynn. 2020. Silks Withdrawn: A Re-Contextualization of the Medieval Fragments from Rayy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThe corpus of silks recovered from the medieval tombs of Rayy, which lies to the South of modern-day Tehran in Iran, date from the late tenth to the early thirteenth centuries. Their span corresponds to a period of time referred to here as “late Abbasid” (ca. 950-1250), in which the hegemony of the Abbasid dynasty (r. 750-1258) had faded, giving way to a soft power propped up by a series of vassal sovereigns—principally, the Buyids (r. 945-1030), the Ghaznavids (r.1030-1032, Iran), and the Seljuks (r. 1032-1250, Iran). While the tombs can be attributed to the early decades of Seljuk reign in the mid-eleventh century, the textiles included in the graves were woven both before and after the monuments’ construction. As a result, the finds at Rayy offer a unique opportunity to observe, within a fixed frame of context, how artistic forms were maintained, and their meanings slowly altered over this tumultuous period. By analyzing the textiles according to art historical and material culture methods, the dissertation argues that the Rayy textiles reveal the ambivalent identities and evolving ambitions of the successive dynasties that made use of them. They show, at once, a conscientious upholding of the caliphal norms and ceremonials required of dynastic elites, as well as a concerted manipulation of those rules aimed at projecting kingship amid the changing realities of the Abbasid empire. To highlight the fundamental cross-purposes these textiles served, the dissertation divides them into three, seemingly straightforward categories: textiles of the public sphere, the private sphere, and the funerary sphere. These spheres conform to the ideals of Abbasid ceremonial and decorum and serve as an opportunity to question how principles of proper conduct were enacted aesthetically. At the same time, the spheres reveal the limitations faced by dynastic rulers and their elite circles, as well as how they responded by pushing the boundaries of each category. The duality of each sphere demonstrates how the textiles from Rayy were integral in the self-fashioning that allowed the vassal kings to nominally uphold the Abbasid order, while simultaneously carving out a place for their own modes of sovereignty, worship, and commemoration. Although textile finds rumored to come from Rayy have been studied since their initial “discovery” by dealers in early 1925, forgeries made in the 1930s and thereafter have forced scholarship to deal almost exclusively with modern questions of authenticity. The origins, debates, and outcomes of the so-called “Buyid Silk Controversy” receive further elucidation here. It is, however, principally the question of medieval authenticity which lies at the center of this study. That is to say, textiles were often a medium of display and luxury; as such, they provide a means of understanding how authenticity—be it a marker of public position, self image, or faith—was enacted visually and materially in the late Abbasid period. The Rayy corpus offers a crucial glimpse of these processes, as late Abbasid artistic products rarely have clear dates or places of manufacture, let alone provenances. As such, the dissertation takes a hermeneutic look at this corpus, deriving evidence from their formal, technical, and material analysis, in order to elucidate the contrived continuity of self-fashioning in the late Abbasid period, as well as the nuanced variations compelled by each successive ruling dynasty as they adapted Abbasid ceremonial to their own aspirations.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368947
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