Head of Curatorial Affairs, The Aga Khan Museum
Tradition, Innovation, and Tradition Again in Hunting Practices in the Mediterranean Region, 10th-14th Centuries
DateTuesday, December 4, 2012
Time6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Place38 West 86th Street
Heather Ecker is Head of Curatorial Affairs at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Prior to this position, she was Curator of Islamic Art and Head of the Department of the Arts of Asia and the Islamic World at the Detroit Institute of Arts; Assistant Curator at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar; Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and Guest Curator at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art; and Mellon Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Lecturer in Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. After completing undergraduate degrees at Harvard University and the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, Ecker received an MPhil and PhD in Islamic Art and Archaeology from the University of Oxford. She has published numerous articles and essays on the art and archaeology of medieval Spain and Islam, including: “The Freer Canteen, Reconsidered” (with Teresa Fitzherbert), Ars Orientalis 42 (2012); “Piedras árabes: Rodrigo Caro y su traducción de las inscripciones árabes de Sevilla (1634),” in Manuel Barrios Aguilera and Mercedes García-Arenal, eds., Los Plomos del Sacromonte, invención y tesoro (Valencia: Publicacions de la Universitat de València, 2006); and “How to Administer a Conquered City in al-Andalus: Mosques, Parish Churches and Parishes,” in Cynthia Robinson and Leyla Rouhi, eds., Under the Influence: Questioning the Comparative in Medieval Iberia (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2005). Additionally, Ecker was the exhibition curator and catalogue editor for the exhibit, Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 2004.
Hunting practices and their representation are amongst the most ancient of artistic subjects. Classical approaches of trapping with nets, spearing, stabbing and shooting with arrows are well-documented on a variety of media—wall paintings, mosaics, sarcophagi and ceramics—a longue durée of images extending into the early Islamic period. While hunting with the sword and the spear does not disappear from the pictorial repertoire, sometime around the tenth century, there is a perceptible shift in imagery in the Mediterranean marked by both the increased frequency of the image of the falconer, and the appearance of horns made of elephant ivory (oliphants). Royal images, in particular, shift definitely by the thirteenth century from an energetically masculine warrior to a mounted figure with a bird on the wrist. While falconry flourished universally in Frankish, Byzantine and Islamic contexts, East and West, such hunting horns were not known in the Islamic East. They do not figure in any representations of hunters in Iranian art, for example. Instead, there is evidence that their use marked an innovation in the Mediterranean region, brought from elsewhere, perhaps the same African hunting grounds where the elephants were felled. Many are decorated with images of animals, sometimes in roundels, and this mode has been compared with Byzantine and Islamic silks. While there may be echoes of textiles on the oliphants, the total pictorial program points to something else: the superposition of an ancient tradition onto a new device. Here, and on related objects made of ivory, are the labors of Hercules, the sympathetic hero offering a potent example to medieval hunters. While an oliphant is famously described in the 12th-century Chanson de Roland as a war horn, the earliest hunting manuals, already describing a tradition, point retroactively to the hunting style aided by the oliphant: hunting with dogs.
Light refreshments will be served at 5:45 pm. The presentation will begin at 6:00 pm.
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Academic Programs, Seminar Series / Ravi and Seran Trehan Lectures in Islamic Art and Material Culture