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Images between Faith and the Law in the Early Modern Persianate and Latinate Spheres.

In my book project “The Ethics of Exception: Attitudes towards Rules and Individual Judgement in the Persianate and Latinate Worlds in the Early Modern Period (1300-1700)” I investigate the tension between individual lives and a number of religious laws. Crucial for this research is to find sources that speak of cases in which an agent is seen to be conscious of the tension between the law and her/his practices. The sources that I’ll look at in this talk are visual sources that demonstrate a consciousness of the tension between the practice of image making and the perceived law on images, or more precisely:
Ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets, there has been a sense in all three of the Abrahamic religions that man-made likenesses of animated beings may in some way compete with or obstruct reverence for the one God. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries people in both Latin-using Western Europe and Persian-using Iran, India and Central Asia struggled with questions about what the law on images was, how it should be applied and how one could get around it. In both areas, artists and their patrons were continually exploring the boundaries of the law. The Persianate World in this epoch saw its golden age of painting on paper, while Latinate Europe experienced a backlash against images with the coming of the Reformation, but also saw a golden age of painting on canvas. Apparently, as contemporaries remarked, images fulfilled a human need that was hard to suppress. Some paintings of the era reflect on this issue in internal dialogues about emptiness and idols and about the tension between law and faith, central to both the Reformation in Europe and Sufism in the Persianate World. At the same time, the rationalism or humanism that was typical of the era led elite patrons of the arts to favour individual expression. If we choose to see all these approaches to the law as strategies, what would a comparison across the two regions yield?     


Gijs Kruijtzer is a historian with an eye for art history, social psychology and global comparison. He studied history at Leiden University, Delhi University and the University of Arizona, and has been a research associate at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Yale University and Humboldt University. His 2009 book Xenophobia in Seventeenth-Century India brings to bear a large amount of new evidence ranging from miniature paintings and stone reliefs to a variety of written sources including Persian chronicles, Urdu poetry and European travelogues and records. The book concludes that the experience of identity in early modern South Asia was not as different from that in the modern period as it is often made out to be, even if the boundaries were drawn along different lines. He is currently attached to the Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte of the University of Vienna, where he is a member of the research cluster “Handling Diversity: Medieval South Asia and Europe in Comparison,” organised by Thomas Ertl and funded by the Wiener Wissenschafts-, Forschungs- und Technologiefonds (WWTF).

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