Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Update from the Met

Dear Samarra-Finds Readers,

I write to you with a Herzfeld-related update from New York. As summer comes to a close, we are excited to report that the Department of Islamic Art is moving closer toward making our Herzfeld Papers more accessible to researchers. Having been rehoused and reorganized several years ago, the Islamic Department’s share of the Herzfeld Papers is on its way to being fully cataloged. By the end of the process, each item will have a unique ID number, content description, publication information and, eventually, references to related archival materials.
We have recently finished cataloging the drawings, watercolors and prints in our collection. This group of material includes the preparatory sketches and watercolors for illustrative plates in Der Wandschmuck der Bauten von Samarra und seine Ornamentik, and Die Malereien von Samarra, the volumes where the wall ornament and wall paintings from Samarra were published. Aside from being works of art themselves, these items may be of interest to Samarra scholars as evidence of Herzfeld’s research techniques. Certain questions came to my mind as I looked through the sketches: Did Herzfeld draw from life or from photos, for example? And how much of what we see in the final publication is to be considered an interpretation?

Friezes of Animals in Vine Scrolls, reconstructed from fragments found in Samarra's Main Caliphal Palace (Dar al-Khilafa)

Another subset of the drawings was chosen for a focused digitization project over the summer. This group consists of approximately 175 drawings depicting architectural plans, elevations and details from buildings in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. A large number of these represent primary research for Herzfeld’s “Damascus: Studies in Architecture”series, a group of articles published at the end of his life that contain some of his most distilled ideas about the evolution of Islamic architecture. The series is an important supplement to the  Freer and Sackler Archives holdings, which have already been digitized in an exemplary fashion.

Nur al-Din Hospital (Bimaristan Nuri) in Damascus: sections of muqarnas dome over entrance hall

Thanks to our fabulous summer intern, Charmaine Branch, we were able to scan all but the largest of these drawings and we hope to upload them to the web. Once online, this series will serve as a “pilot” for a larger project to fully digitize the papers housed in our department, and to connect our portion of the archive to portions held in other institutions.
Matt Saba (Metropolitan Museum / University of Chicago)

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