Rethinking Mamluk Textiles

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BETHANY J. WALKEROKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITYRethinking Mamluk Textiles*With the emergence of Mamluk studies as a distinct area of specialization withinIslamic studies, an evaluation of the current "state-of-the-field" of Mamluk art andarchitecture is required.1 Although textiles are included in most discussions ofMamluk art, a full-length review of the literature, goals, and methods of this fieldhas not yet appeared. The following article is a contribution to this end.The literature on Mamluk textiles is vast and varied. Because of the centralityof textiles in medieval culture, textile analysis has been of interest to scholarsfrom a variety of disciplines.2 Art historians, more traditional historians, andarchaeologists have all written on the subject; sometimes, but not always, theirwork is done in consultation with textile specialists, who have contributed theirown body of scholarly literature.3 Archaeologists, for example, have taken a specialinterest in Mamluk textiles, because of their superior preservation in excavations.More complete pieces have been preserved from the Mamluk period than from Middle East Documentation Center. The University of Chicago.*This article grew out of a post-doctoral fellowship in textiles (Veronika Gervers ResearchFellowship) I held at the Royal Ontario Museum in the fall of 1998 and a paper on Mamluktextiles and ceramics given at the MESA annual meeting in Chicago in December of the sameyear. All pieces illustrated herein belong to the Abemayor Collection of the Royal Ontario Museumin Toronto and were photographed by Brian Boyle. I am grateful to Bruce Craig for the invitationto contribute this study.1Donald Whitcomb, "Mamluk Archaeological Studies: A Review," Mamlu k Studies Review 1(1997): 97-106; Jonathan M. Bloom, "Mamluk Art and Architectural History: A Review Article,"Mamlu k Studies Review 3 (1999): 31-58; Bethany J. Walker, "The Later Islamic Periods:Militarization and Nomadization," Near Eastern Archaeology ("Archaeological Sources for theHistory of Palestine" series) 62 (1999), in progress.2Lisa Golombek has written eloquently about the "textile mentality" of medieval Islamic societyin her "The Draped Universe of Islam," in Priscilla P. Soucek, ed., Content and Context of VisualArts in the Islamic World (University Park, PA, 1988), 25-38.3In archaeological reports, textile analysis is generally contained in a separate chapter and iswritten by a textile consultant. Two of the more notable, and successful, joint efforts by arthistorians and textile specialists are Ernst Kühnel and Louisa Bellinger, Catalogue of Dated TirazFabrics: Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid, The Textile Museum (Washington, D.C., 1952) andLisa Golombek and Veronika Gervers, "Tiraz Fabrics in the Royal Ontario Museum," in VeronikaGervers, ed., Studies in Textile History in Memory of Harold B. Burnham, Royal Ontario Museum(Toronto, 1977), 82-125.Article: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MSR IV 2000-Walker.pdf (lower resolution version)Full volume: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MamlukStudiesReview IV 2000.pdf 2000 by the author. (Disregard notice of MEDOC copyright.) This work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0International license (CC-BY). Mamlūk Studies Review is an Open Access journal. See http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/msr.html for information.

168 BETHANY J. WALKER, R ETHINKING MAMLUK TEXTILESany other time.4 For economic historians, textile analysis is particularly significant.Textiles were the "most important form of bourgeois wealth" and appear regularlyin medieval texts as a commodity of import and export.5 Moreover, the textileindustry has been described as a mainstay of the Mamluk economy, and, alongwith metalwork, Mamluk fabrics were the largest exports to the Far East in thethirteenth through fifteenth centuries.6Scholars of social and political history have emphasized the politicization oftextile production by the Mamluks. The manipulation of costume by the rulingestablishment for state functions, such as pageants, banquets, and processions, is afamiliar phenomenon for medieval Europe, as well as the Islamic world.7 AsBierman and Sanders have illustrated, the Fatimids appreciated the political potentialof textiles and used them, along with the architectural backdrop of the city ofCairo, to punctuate their official ceremonies.8 The Mamluks, even more than theFatimids, made expensive fabrics, particularly inscribed silks (t ira z, zarkash),tools of state by incorporating certain kinds of dress and the change of dress intotheir court rituals. The elaboration of official ceremonial by al-Na si r Muh ammadand the codification by rank of dress which went along with it are importantphenomena to consider in this regard.9 Most of what has been written on Mamlukceremonial in recent years has made reference to dress.10 Similarly, there has been4Tissus d'Égypte: Témoins du monde Arabe, VIIIe-XVe siècles (Collection Bouvier), Musée d'artet d'histoire (Geneva, 1993), 28. For an excellent example of costume preservation in anarchaeological context, one should see Elisabeth Crowfoot, "The Clothing of a Fourteenth-CenturyNubian Bishop," in Studies in Textile History, 43-51.5Ira M. Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 1967), 31.6Louise W. Mackie, "Toward an Understanding of Mamluk Silks: National and InternationalConsiderations," Muqarnas 2 (1984): 127, 140, and Bloom, "Mamluk Art and Architectural History,"48.7An excellent source on European pageantry is Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals1450-1650 (Suffolk, 1984).8Irene Bierman, "Art and Politics: The Impact of Fatimid Uses of Tiraz Fabrics" (Ph.D. diss.,University of Chicago, 1980) and idem, Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text (Berkeley, 1998).Paula Sanders' Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Egypt (Albany, NY, 1994) is a broaderinvestigation of Fatimid processions.9This is the central theme of L. A. Mayer, Mamluk Costume (Geneva, 1952). The effects thatdevelopment in ceremonial had on Mamluk art of the fourteenth century are examined in BethanyJ. Walker, "The Ceramic Correlates of Decline in the Mamluk Sultanate: An Analysis of LateMedieval Sgraffito Wares" (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1998).10Karl Stowasser, "Manner and Customs at the Mamluk Court," Muqarnas 2 (1984): 13-20; DorisBehrens-Abouseif, "The Citadel of Cairo: Stage for Mamluk Ceremonial," Annales Islamologiques24 (1988): 25-79; Boaz Shoshan, Popular Culture in Medieval Cairo (New York, 1993); andNasser O. Rabbat, The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk ArchitectureArticle: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MSR IV 2000-Walker.pdf (lower resolution version)Full volume: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MamlukStudiesReview IV 2000.pdf

MAMLU K STUDIES REVIEW, VOL. 4, 2000 169an interest in textiles used by the contemporary Mongol courts, as exemplified bythe work of Allsen and Wardwell.11The purpose of this article is to reevaluate the contributions of these disciplinesin light of the results of recent scholarship in Mamluk studies. Specifically, thecoexistence of two distinct groups of patrons (military and civilian) is consideredfor its impact on the production, consumption, and artistic development of textilesin Mamluk Cairo.HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN M AMLUK TEXTILE PRODUCTIONTwo themes dominate discussion of the Mamluks' textile industry: the increasingprivatization of production throughout the fourteenth century and the decline ofthis industry in the fifteenth. There has been a heavy reliance on Maqr z 's Khit at for information on the operation and ownership of t ira z factories in the Mamlukperiod.12 According to this historian, robes of honor (khila‘)—a broad category ofofficial garments, including textiles we traditionally call t ira z, and ensembles ofclothing, equipment, and accessories—were manufactured in the state-run du ral-t ira z well into the fourteenth century. Ibn Khaldu n, furthermore, situates theda r al-t ira z of his day in Cairo's marketplace rather than the palace, as was thecase in the Fatimid period.13 The date 1340-41 is recognized as a turning point inthe textile industry in Egypt, because in that year the administration of the royalworkshop in Alexandria was delegated to an appointee of a local governmentofficial. Alexandria's da r al-t ira z closed soon afterwards.14 Whether seen as agrowing disinterest in textile manufacture by the central authority or as a steptowards directing Egypt's best textile production and sales to Cairo, this actionwas only one example of the ways in which the industry was transformed. Productionwas increasingly privatized with the expanding influence of the amirs. Lapidus(Leiden, 1995).11Thomas T. Allsen, Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History ofIslamic Textiles (Cambridge, 1997); Anne Wardwell, "Flight of the Phoenix: Crosscurrents in lateThirteenth to Fourteenth Century Silk Patterns and Motifs," Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum ofArt 74, no. 1 (Jan. 1987): 1-35; idem, "Panni Tartarici: Eastern Islamic Silks Woven with Gold andSilver (13th and 14th Centuries)," Islamic Art 3 (1989): 95-173; idem, "Two Silk and GoldTextiles of the Early Mongol Period," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 79, no. 10(Dec. 1992): 354-78; and James Watt and Anne Wardwell, When Silk was Gold: Central Asianand Chinese Textiles, exhibition catalogue, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and ClevelandMuseum of Art (New York, 1997). While Allsen relies on textual sources, Wardwell's work ismore technically based.12For a definition of the term t ira z, see discussion below and Golombek and Gervers, "TirazFabrics in the Royal Ontario Museum."13Mayer, Mamluk Costume, 33.14Patricia L. Baker, Islamic Textiles (London, 1995), 78.Article: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MSR IV 2000-Walker.pdf (lower resolution version)Full volume: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MamlukStudiesReview IV 2000.pdf

170 BETHANY J. WALKER, R ETHINKING MAMLUK TEXTILESmentions several instances of amirs in Damascus transferring silk and cloth marketsto their own qays ar yahs, in at least one case in violation of an endowmentbenefiting the Umayyad Mosque.15Contemporary sources leave no doubt that the manufacture and sale of expensivefabrics and costumes were lucrative. Surprisingly, there was no consistent policytowards this industry in the Mamluk period. Maqr z explains that after a periodof private manufacture and sale, the market, in his day, had been taken over onceagain by the sultan. In his description of the Su q al-Shara b sh y n (a specializedcap market) he writes:And the people greatly benefited from this, and they amassed animmense fortune through the regulation of business in this industry.For this reason no one could sell [robes of honor] except to thesultan. The sultan appointed the na zi r al-kha ss to buy all he needed.If anyone other than the sultan's agents tried to buy from thismarket, he would be punished accordingly.16The "owners" of these businesses, while they were still independently run, wereprobably both amirs and civilian merchants. Privatization of this level of thetextile industry may have also contributed to a change of fashion among nonMamluks, as the most prestigious garments were now available, at a price, towealthier civilians.17 The result of the sultan's renewed monopoly over khila‘would have been not only a concentration of resources but also restricted accessto the most valuable fabrics and costumes, reinforcing the hierarchy of dresscodes which reached its full development under al-Na s ir Muh ammad.The introduction of chinoiserie was one of the most significant developmentsin textile production. While oriental motifs begin to appear in Mamluk art of thelate thirteenth century, their powerful presence in the mature Bah r style of thefourteenth may be related to the success of the Yüan silk export market. Thewell-known reference by Abu al-Fidá to the gift of 700 silks from the Il KhanAbu Sa‘ d to al-Na s ir Muh ammad, in celebration of the 1323 peace treaty, isusually cited as evidence for the large-scale import of Mongol silks.18 The impactof Yüan silks on the Mamluk textile industry, if not the other way around, not to15Lapidus, Muslim Cities, 60.Ah mad ibn ‘Al al-Maqr z , Al-Mawa ‘iz wa-al-I‘tiba r bi-Dhikr al-Khit at wa-al-A tha r, ed.Muh ammad Zaynahum and Mad h ah al-Sharqa w (Cairo, 1998), 2:591. See also Mayer, MamlukCostume, 63.17Amalia Levanoni, A Turning Point in Mamluk History: The Third Reign of al-Na s ir Muh ammadIbn Qala wu n (1310-1341) (Leiden, 1995), 113.18Baker, Islamic Textiles, 72; Mackie, "Toward an Understanding," 132.16Article: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MSR IV 2000-Walker.pdf (lower resolution version)Full volume: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MamlukStudiesReview IV 2000.pdf

MAMLU K STUDIES REVIEW, VOL. 4, 2000 171mention the differentiation of Mongol (Yüan or Il Khanid) from Mamluk silks,are still matters of debate.19Scholars are increasingly emphasizing the third reign of al-Na s ir Muh ammadas a watershed in textile development. Al-Na si r Muh ammad's elaboration of officialceremonial was complemented, and in fact buttressed, by the beautification ofofficial apparel and the institution of a strict hierarchy of dress according to rank.20Mayer's Mamluk Costume is to this day the single most important reference forinformation on official costumes and their codification. Mayer was able to attributemany textile innovations to this period, such as gold t ira z, gold brocade, and goldbelts. Fashions for the military changed under his rule, with the introduction ofthe "Salla r " and "Tartar" coats and the aqbiyah maftu h ah.21 The art historicalrecord confirms the picture the Arabic sources paint of this sultan. The majority ofhistorically inscribed silks (both Mamluk and Yüan) name him, and some of thehighest quality damasks can be dated to his third reign on a stylistic basis.22The art historical literature suggests that while the