Early Islamic Period Metalwork of the Umayyads, ‘Abbāsids and Fāţimids

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My PhD research necessitated travel to Germany for the study of Early Islamic Period (7th-12th centuries CE) metalwork in the collections of Senator Manfred Bumiller in the Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst at Bamberg and Museum für Islamische Kunst in the Staatliche Museen at Berlin, which was undertaken during the period of 28 March – 11 April 2016. This was an extremely successful trip and could not have been undertaken without the generous financial support in the form of a research grant from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI). The Bumiller Collection, although not well known, is perhaps the largest in the world for Early Islamic Period metalwork datable to the Umayyads, ‘Abbāsids and Saldjūs, with over 6,000 objects mostly in metal (Fig. 1). The collection also consists of material attributed to the Fāţimids, other semi-autonomous dynasties under the ‘Abbāsids and from the later Islamic world. The Museum für Islamische Kunst houses one of the earliest collections of Islamic art, covering a wide range of material, including metalwork, amassed from the breadth of the Islamic world. The metalwork, mostly held in the museum store, reflect the Early Islamic Period dynasties of the Umayyads, ‘Abbāsids, Fāţimids, Saldjūs and others (Fig. 2).

Figure 1 – A room displaying various metal vessels including bottles, jars and mortars of the Bumiller Collection in the Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst at Bamberg. The museum catalogues and my workspace are visible on the left. (Photograph by G Bilotto, March 2016).

 

Figure 2 – A study of several Early Islamic Period metal objects in the store of the Museum für Islamische Kunst in the Staatliche Museen at Berlin, with Dr Gisela Helmecke, curator of Islamic art. (Photograph by G Bilotto, April 2016).

 

My PhD research covers Early Islamic Period metalwork, particularly of the Fāţimids (909-1172 CE), a dynasty that ruled over medieval Bilād al-Shām (the Levant), Ifrīḳiya (central North Africa) and Miṣr (Egypt). The first part of my research involved the determination of an exact identification for metalwork datable to the Fāţimids, which required the study of earlier dynastic metal objects, particularly of the Umayyads and ‘Abbāsids in Bilād ar-Rāfidayn (Mesopotamia, today modern ‘Irāq). Most metalwork is difficult to distinguish between the Umayyad, ‘Abbāsid and Fāţimid caliphal periods and thus have often been overlooked in scholarship. Metalwork is also both easily portable and valuable. An example would be a metal object produced in the ‘Abbāsid capital Baghdād, then transported across their territory to Fusţāţ, later a Fāţimid city, making the future origin and identification of the object difficult. A closer examination of the objects’ similarities and differences for categorisation was, therefore, necessary to determine an accurate attribution.

 The second aspect of my research concerned the relationship between metalwork production of the three different dynasties in the Early Islamic Period and the styles, themes and actual techniques of manufacture. The metal object, again produced in Baghdād and exported to Fusţāţ, might influence the development of metalwork produced under the succeeding Fāţimid dynasty. The influences each of the three dynasties had on their own metalwork production and the extent these objects influenced metalwork production in successive dynasties is an area of study not addressed in current scholarship. The examination of various metal objects from these periods was therefore essential for the collection of data to answer these two research questions.

My time with the Bumiller Collection was invaluable, allowing for the examination, photographing and recording of measurements and weights of numerous metal objects from the Umayyads and ‘Abbāsids in Bilād ar-Rāfidayn, Khurāsān (part of Iran, Central Asia, and Afghānistān) and Mā warāʼ al-Nahr (Transoxiana or Central Asia). Data was collected on bottles, bowls, figural objects, jars, utensils and other vessels, which will be used in comparison with metalwork from other collections. The major importance of the Bumiller Collection stems from the type and quantity of metalwork, which collectively forms an academic collection, rather than one common in a large state museum. The array of utilitarian objects and quantity of each type represent a complete assemblage of each particular object, allowing for information on the manufacture, use, and range of styles. This important information is seldom available in a large state museum, which usually holds masterworks. Masterworks can be a disadvantage since they are less representative of an entire culture, often produced for the elite or court, they are therefore not utilitarian objects or reflective of items used on a daily basis.

My research at the Bumiller Collection was facilitated by Senator Manfred Bumiller, collector and chairman of the museum foundation, Professor Dr. Lorenz Korn from Universität Bamberg and Dr. Monika Dahncke, former curator of the museum (Fig. 3). Through their generous help and support, access to all of the museum’s collection was possible. Unknown at the time of the BISI research grant application, there is a branch museum for the Bumiller Collection in Berlin. After arrival in Berlin, for the second part of the trip, a visit to the branch museum was arranged through Jill Bumiller, head of the museum foundation, for the study of additional objects. The possibility for future collaboration with the museum on an exhibition project remains high. This opportunity and the study of objects in the museum for my PhD research would again not have been possible without the financial support from BISI.

Figure 3 – Senator Manfred Bumiller examines an object from the Bumiller Collection in the Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst at Bamberg. (Photograph by G Bilotto, March 2016).

 

Finally, my research was advanced after study in the store of the Museum für Islamische Kunst in the Staatliche Museen at Berlin, with the curator of Islamic art, Dr. Gisela Helmecke. The museum contains a large number of metal objects from the Early Islamic Period including many from the ‘Abbāsids and Fāţimids. Dr. Helmecke provided access to the store and assisted in my examination and photographing of bowls, lampstands, lids, pots, and utensils. Although many of these metal objects were previously published, firsthand examination revealed many details not noted in publication, including obscured designs and inscriptions. Much more information was gained from handling the metal objects since most of these details usually are absent from museum catalogs. The occasion to meet with the former curator of Islamic art, Dr. Jens Kröger, and discuss my research was also very helpful.

My future plans entail the publication of my PhD thesis, to expand current knowledge on the identification and influences of Early Islamic Period metalwork from the Umayyads, ‘Abbāsids and especially of the Fāţimids. At this time, preparation has begun for an academic article to be submitted for publication consideration within a multivolume book from the University of Oxford on the concept of academic collecting, with the Bumiller Collection serving as the model. The significance of the collection both as the largest source for Early Islamic Period metalwork and the enormous quantity of each utilitarian object, provide an extremely unique and specialised source for research. The hope is that the lesser known collection will become better recognized for its importance. In the planned publications, BISI will be equally acknowledged for their substantial financial support.

 

Selected Bibliography

 

Bumiller, Manfred. Typologie Frühislamischer Bronzen Flügelschalen und Flakons:

Bumiller Collection. Schriften des Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 3. Bamberg: Museum für Frühislamische Kunst, 1993.

___. Kleinformate: Frühislamischer Bronzen in der Bumiller Collection. Schriften des

Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 7. Bamberg: Museum für Frühislamische Kunst, 2002.

___. Tropfenförmige Anhänger: Typologie Frühislamischer Bronzen der Bumiller Collection.

Schriften des Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 6. Bamberg: Museum für Frühislamische Kunst, 1999.

Bumiller, Manfred, Verena Daiber, Anja Heidenreich, Samer Rahhal, Valentina Runge,

Frank Schellenberg, Ilse Sturkenboom, and Jasmin Wilhelm. Lebenswelten Islamischer Kunst: Eine Blütenlese aus dem Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst Bamberg. Bamberg: Universitätsmuseum für Islamische Kunst, 2012.

Dahncke, Monika. Enghalsflaschen: Typologie Frühislamischer Bronzen der Bumiller

Collection. Schriften des Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 5. Bamberg: Museum

für Frühislamische Kunst, 1997.

___. Frühislamische Bronze Öllampen: und ihre Typologie der Bumiller Collection. Schriften

des Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 2. Bamberg: Museum für Frühislamische Kunst, 1992.

___. Tierkopf und Öllampen Kannen: Typologie Frühislamischer Bronzen der Bumiller

Collection. Schriften des Museums für Frühislamische Kunst 4. Bamberg: Museum

für Frühislamische Kunst, 1995.

Gladiß, Almut von. Glanz und Substanz: Metallarbeiten in der Sammlung des Museums für

            Islamische Kunst. Berlin: Museums für Islamische Kunst Staatliche Museen zu

            Berlin, 2012.