Art Histories
2016/ 2017

Lamia Balafrej

The Mediation of Intricacy. Medium Representation and Authorship in Late Fifteenth-Century Persian Painting

"Yusuf and Zulaykha,” from a copy of the Bustan by Sa‘di, ca. 1488, Cairo, Dar al-Kutub, Adab Farisi 22, fol. 52b.

Lamia Balafrej is Assistant Professor of art history at Wellesley College. She earned her PhD in Islamic art history from the Université Aix-Marseille (Aix-en-Provence, France). She studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and holds degrees from Mohammad V University (Rabat, Morocco) and the Sorbonne (Paris, France). A specialist of Islamic art, her work touches upon a wide variety of topics, including cultural appropriation, iconoclasm and artistic reflexivity, with a transversal interest in the relationships between representation and materiality. Her current book project deals with metapictoriality in fifteenth-century Persian painting. Her research has been supported by numerous fellowships and grants, including a Coleman Memorial Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of art (New York) and a predoctoral fellowship at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art (Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.).

The Mediation of Intricacy. Medium Representation and Authorship in Late Fifteenth-Century Persian Painting

Persian manuscript painting is known for the density of its composition, the minuteness of its details and the linear precision of its motifs. These qualities emerged in the decades around 1400 and developed across the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Yet, the critical power of this visual mode has never been explored. Scholars have mainly highlighted either its decorative purpose or its effect of social distinction. Tentatively entitled The Mediation of Intricacy, Lamia’s book project proposes, in contrast, to explore intricacy as an active, metapictorial device, designed to fashion and mediate questions about the power of the artist and the meaning of art. Influenced by the culture of the majlis, an institutional gathering of patrons, literati and artists devoted to oral literary performances and debates, painters, she argues, devised a number of strategies to transform Persian manuscript painting into a medium for artistic representation and critical inquiry. These strategies include the proliferation of extra-textual forms and the execution of tiny details, including the artist’s signature. Playing with the limits between word and image, calligraphy and painting, image and reality, intricacy served, more specifically, to interrogate the ontological boundaries of painting.