Sussan Babaie will be coming to speak at the Ravi and Seran Trehan Lecture in Islamic Art and Material Culture on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Her talk is entitled “Nadir Shah’s Delhi Loot and the Eighteenth-Century Exotics of Empire.”

Sussan Babaie is currently a Visiting Professor at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. She has received a B.A. in Fine Arts from Tehran University, an M.A. in Art History from American University, and an M.A and Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. In addition to her academic appointments, Dr. Babaie has served as a consultant and curator for several museum exhibitions, including the 2010 show “Strolling in Isfahan” at the Sackler Museum, Harvard University. She has also published extensively on Persian art and architecture. Her latest book, Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (University of Edinburgh Press, 2008), was the 2009 winner of the Middle East Studies Association’s Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award. Most recently, she has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for a book project on architectural cosmopolitanism in 17th-century Middle Eastern cities.

The peacock throne, two giant diamonds (including the famous Kuh-i Nur), bejeweled daggers, carved rubies and emeralds, strings of pearls, and allegedly — albeit unlikely — the famous folios of the Hamzanama were among the spectacularly rich loot taken from the treasury in Delhi and carted back to Persia after the 1739 defeat of the Mughals by Nadir Shah (r. 1736-47). In retrospect, Nadir Shah’s feat represented the last world-conquering plan to have risen from the Islamic world prior to the twentieth century. In his ambition to form a Persian-Indian empire spanning western, central, and southern regions of Asia, Nadir followed in the footsteps of his forebearer Timur/Tamerlane and prefigured Napoleon’s expansionist ventures. In contrast to Napoleon’s plunder of Egypt, which has been extensively studied for its cultural implications within an Orientalist discourse, Nadir Shah’s imperial ambitions remain locked within the narrow confines of a regional unleashing of despotic madness and have been considered to be of little art historical significance.

The study of looted objects from the treasury in Delhi is problematic because many of the items were disassembled, dispersed, or incorporated into new objects. For objects that have gone missing, an alternative approach may be found by looking at skilled ‘labor’ and traces of artistic taste. Nadir Shah’s venture, like that of his imperial predecessor Timur, included the looting of building materials and technologies procured from Indian craftsmen and artists. These artisans appear to have been assigned to work with locals in the creation of a monument at the so-called Kalat-i Nadiri in northeastern Iran. The decorative scheme of this monument points to the emergence of a new hybrid style that reintroduced exotic Indian sensibility to Persian arts. Focusing on the stylistic and technological features of the Kalat, Dr. Babaie will argue that the building project, which was probably intended as a treasury to house the Delhi loot, introduced a self-consciously historicized and exoticized articulation of empire in the eighteenth century.

Light refreshments will be served at 5:45 pm. The presentation will begin at 6:00 pm.

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