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d’archéologie orientale du Caire


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Wiet and Egypt

Cette opération est achevée.

Gaston Wiet and Egypt. An Historiographical Approach to the Study of Fatimid Textiles

• Miriam Ali-de-Unzaga (The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London)

This project (IFAO 18483) seeks to explore and problematise the contribution and the legacy of Gaston Wiet in relation to Islamic textiles in general and Fatimid in particular.

Wiet (1887-1971) was a prolific scholar whose bibliographical references amount to more than 400 publications, including books, articles, academic notes, and book reviews. Pensionnaire at the IFAO from 1909 to 1911; founder and contributing scholar of the Répertoire Chronologique d’ Épigraphie Arabe, RCEA (1931-1958); contributor to the Encyclopaedia of Islam; director of the Musée d’art Arabe du Caire (1926-1951); member of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de L’Art Arabe, participating and organising exhibitions in Cairo and Europe, he was also involved in the discovery of Fatimid stuccos in excavations in Fustat. From the 1930s he lived permanently in Egypt, becoming a prominent figure in Egyptian and international academic and museological circles. Keeping a close link to the IFAO, Wiet produced important scholarly Arabic edited editions, translations and books on various and diverse pioneering subjects dealing with Islamic history, literature, epigraphy, architecture and art history. Due to the breadth and depth of his work Wiet’s work continues to be cited today. However, his significance as one of the founding figures and moving forces in the study of Islamic art has not been explored as a subject of study.

This project takes a historiographical approach in assessing and critically analysing the role of Wiet in the development of the discipline of Islamic textiles and more specifically his contribution and impact on the study of Fatimid textiles, which constitutes a substantial part of Wiet’s legacy.

Despite the fact that Wiet’s early publications were written before the modern advances in Ismaili studies and as such were based exclusively on hostile Sunni sources, he noted that the Fatimid period was “one the most fascinating of Muslim Egypt.” The Fatimids (909-1171 CE), a Shiʿi Muslim dynasty, founded al-Qahira (Cairo) in 973 CE as the capital of their caliphate. Under their patronage, artistic production and intellectual thought flourished enormously. The Fatimids ruled over a multi-ethnic interacting society consisting of Shiʿi and Sunni Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Very little remains of the architecture and material culture of the Fatimid period. In contrast, a considerable number of textiles produced under the Fatimid caliphate have survived, most of them dug out from burial contexts in Egypt. The large quantity of pieces, the high variety, and the quality of many of them constitute a significant corpus of tangible evidence which can provide useful – and in occasions – unexpected information.

In addition to assess the ways Wiet’s work contributed to the formation of the study of Fatimid textiles this project explores to what extent it has informed its current predicament:

• By contextualising Wiet’s work with respect to his predecessors and colleagues, in order to examine the complexities of museum collecting, display, connoisseurship, scholarship and relations with dealers and the art market.

• By looking at the trajectories, values and meanings attributed to Fatimid textiles from their acquisition to museum and exhibition displays and the impact of publications and museum catalogues within the politics of heritage, institutional histories of archaeology and the epistemology of the study of Islamic art.