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Lecture Eva-Maria Troelenberg (UU): Mshatta and the Invention of Islamic Art as a Modern Concept (Utrecht)
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17 April 2018

UCU Cultural Heritage Program (CHIP) Lecture, Tuesday 17 April, 15:45 – 17:00

UCU Auditorium


Prins Hendriklaan



Eva-Maria Troelenberg

Mshatta and the Invention of Islamic Art as a Modern Concept

The ornamented façade of Mshatta was once part of a so-called early Islamic"desert palace" that was built around the mid-8th century AD in present-day Jordan. In the early twentieth century it came to Berlin as a gift of the Ottoman sultan. Today it has its place in the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and is not just one of the major monumental exhibits on the Museum Island – it is also a central keystone for the history of Islamic art which emerged as a scholarly discipline and as a museological field of interest just around the time of Mshatta’s discovery.

In my talk I will trace the modern history of Mshatta and its perception. This will focus particularly on the period between Mshatta’s first descriptions by Western travelers around 1840, to its musealisation in Berlin and then to its destruction during WWII and subsequent reconstruction.

This object-biography will be filtered through the paradigms of what was a crucial century of museum history and intellectual discourse. It is a telling case study for concepts of art history, museology and cultural heritage that collectively inform how non-European art and culture was perceived and appropriated by and discussed through museums and academia.  
The lecture will also show how this is connected to a more recent turn in contemporary art, since the concept of „Islamic Art“ and its object-biographies have been  picked up by artists such as Walid Raad or Mariana Castillo Deball, effectively connecting a long intellectual history to contemporary aesthetic practice.


Eva-Maria Troelenberg is professor for modern and contemporary art history at Utrecht University. Between 2011 and 2018, she was head of the Max-Planck-Research Group „Objects in the Contact Zone – The Cross-Cultural Lives of Things“ at Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut. Her publications include the monograph „Mshatta in Berlin – Keystones of Islamic Art“ as well as the edited volume „Images of the Art Museum. Connecting Gaze and Discourse in the History of Museology“ (with Melania Savino).

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