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Richard & Mary Rouse History of the Book Lecture, Guest Speaker: Ilse Sturkenboom

Thursday, Feb 15 @ 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Royce 314, 10745 Dickson Ct
Los Angeles, CA 90095 United States
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“On the Introduction of Chinese Decorated Paper to Iran and How it Revolutionized Manuscript Production in the Islamic World”

Guest speaker: Ilse Sturkenboom (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

The fifteenth-century introduction of long sheets of brightly colored and gold-embellished paper from Ming China to Iran provided book artists with a range of new possibilities in the production of luxurious and often royally commissioned manuscripts. Colored on both sides and boasting extensive gold decoration in the form of flecks, sprinkles and whole compositions of landscape designs, various plants and flower-and-bird motives, these papers allowed for texts to be written on a completely decorated carrier rather than being embellished only selectively and usually after the writing process. The option of combining sheets of different colors and gold designs furthermore offered almost unlimited possibilities for a polychromous reading experience, for example through the alternation of colors within manuscripts’ quires or by writing on top of the colored paper in contrasting tones.

This lecture will offer insights into the circumstances under which Chinese paper was introduced and used in Persianate manuscripts and propose possible reasons for its employment. It will also consider possible disadvantages of Chinese paper that may have led to the discontinuation of its use around 1500 such as its rarity or even unavailability, heavy weight and unsuitability for writing upon with (Persian) inks.

A further aim of this lecture is to investigate instances of the adaptation of Chinese paper’s aesthetics in manuscripts produced in the Islamic world. Examples derive from manuscripts analyzed as part of the recently started ERC-project GLOBAL DECO PAPER (Decorated Paper in the Early-Modern Islamicate World: Aesthetics, Techniques and Meaning in Global Contexts). They shed light onto the local appropriation and techniques of gold sprinkling and flecking, paper coloring, and embellishment with (Chinese-inspired) floral and figurative designs behind and around texts. These specimens also demonstrate how existing techniques such as stenciling were revived and (presumably) new techniques such as paper marbling and paper cutting were developed in another step in the appropriation of Chinese paper’s aesthetics and towards local manifestations of paper decoration.

Ilse Sturkenboom specializes in the Persianate arts of the books. Her current project on Chinese decorated paper in Persianate manuscripts investigates exchange between China and the Islamic world, the materiality of so-called ‘Chinese paper’ and the impact of Chinese decorated paper on the aesthetics and layout of manuscripts produced in the Islamic world. She welcomes graduate students interested in Islamic art, the arts of the books and visual cultures in particular.

The History of the Book Lecture series, established in 1993 through the efforts of Richard and Mary Rouse, provides an annual venue for internationally recognized authorities on medieval and Renaissance books to present their expertise at UCLA. The lecture’s focus alternates each year between medieval manuscripts and Renaissance books. Among the topics explored in past lectures were: book and manuscript illustration, the development of printing, early book printers and sellers, the book trade, and medieval and Renaissance book and manuscript collections.

More information about past Richard and Mary Rouse History of the Book lectures can be found here.

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Thursday, Feb 15
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Event Category:


Royce 314
10745 Dickson Ct
Los Angeles, CA 90095 United States
+ Google Map