Dr Ilse Sturkenboom: Writing on Colour and Gold: The Use and Meaning of Chinese Decorated Paper in Fifteenth-Century Persianate Manuscripts


  • 1.30pm

  • Online

Chair: Dr Yuthika Sharma

In the fifteenth century, the Timurid and Turkmen rulers over greater Iran were in lively exchange with the Ming court in China. Reciprocal embassies regularly travelled between Beijing and cities such as Herat, Shiraz and Tabriz, bringing with them gifts to further and underscore the cordial relations. Luxurious paper, tinted in bright colours and decorated with gold motifs and gold flecks or sprinkles, started to feature in Persian manuscripts from the first half of the fifteenth century. Even if the original long sheets were cut up, folded and written upon in the process of manuscript making, their original gold motifs can still be discerned. They consist of landscape designs, flowering trees with two birds perching in them, and various vine plants, which are typical themes in Chinese, but not in Persian, art. Since the early twentieth century it has therefore been suspected that these papers were produced in China and brought to greater Iran by means of travel or trade. Material analyses of such papers, which I have conducted together with archaeometrists and paper conservators, offer further evidence to support this hypothesis. In this talk, I will introduce the materiality and production processes of the decorated paper, its use in Iran and China, and the meanings it might have had in both contexts.

Ilse Sturkenboom is an Islamic Art Historian who specialises in Persianate arts of the book. She earned her PhD (2016) from the University of Bamberg with a dissertation on illustrated manuscripts of Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s mystical poem The Conference of the Birds. Her monograph deriving from this dissertation will be published by Brill in 2021. Ilse’s second book project deals with the use of Chinese decorated paper in Persianate manuscripts and its impact on manuscript illumination in the Middle East, Central and South Asia.

Ilse was an assistant to the Chair of Islamic Art History at the University of Vienna between 2014 and 2016 and worked as Lecturer in Iranian Islamic Art History at the University of St Andrews from 2016 to 2020. She is excited to start as Professor in Islamic Art History at the LMU in Munich from January 2021.