History of Art Research Seminar: Anna McSweeney | Object Biographies: a carved and painted ceiling from the Alhambra Palace

  • Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 17:15 to 18:30

  • Hunter Building, Hunter Lecture Theatre (017)
    74 Lauriston Place
    EH3 9DF

Dr Anna McSweeney is a Research Fellow on the 'Bilderfahrzeuge Project: Aby Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology' at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, funded by the Max Weber Stiftung.

She is also a Senior Teaching Fellow in Islamic art and archaeology at SOAS, University of London, where she has taught since 2008 and completed a PhD on mudéjar art and material culture in 2012

Her research focuses on the art and material culture of al-Andalus and mudéjar Spain, in particular in relation to the migration of images and objects and the potential agency of material things. 

Her talk is entitled Object Biographies: a carved and painted ceiling from the Alhambra Palace. From medieval Islamic Spain to modern-day Berlin.

Synopsis: Recent years have seen a proliferation of histories written about objects, from 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' at the British Museum to the autobiographical history of a netsuke collection in The Hare with the Amber Eyes by the potter Edmund de Waal. This new concern for the materiality of things and their potential agency represents an exciting new turn in the fields of anthropology, history and the history of art.

But what does such a biographical approach offer when we are looking at the history of buildings and their details? This lecture will explore the possibilities of using the biographical approach to tell the story of a carved and painted ceiling from the Alhambra palace, Granada.

Probably the most well-known and visited Islamic palace in the world, the long history of the Alhambra palace remains obscured by nineteenth-century romantic tales of western travellers and the revisionist histories of recent times. Through a close reading of one of its most exquisite and oldest decorative ceilings, the lecture will trace the history of the Partal cupola from its 'birth' in early fourteenth-century, Nasrid Granada, to its life-changing move from Granada to Berlin in the 1890s.

This biographical approach that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, allows for a more complete and longer history to be told, one that places equal weight on the moment of production alongside the longer contextual history of the Alhambra's decline in the early modern period, its rediscovery by the romantics and current position as Spain's number one tourist destination.

The event is free and open to all.

This event is part of the History of Art Research Seminar Series of talks by guest speakers and colleagues. Find out more about the series.