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British Museum
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60 Projects, page 1 of 12
  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: AH/F007590/1
    Funder Contribution: 82,784 GBP
    Partners: BM

    This research project will focus on three Shi`i shrines in Iran at Ardabil, Mashhad and Qum during the period of Shah `Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) in preparation for an exhibition, its catalogue, and a scholarly conference in 2009. \n\nIn partnership with the National Museum of Iran, Tehran, the British Museum will prepare the exhibition and its catalogue. These will include a substantial number of objects borrowed from Iran and will rely in part on research done by scholars associated with the National Museum and the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation. \n\nA century after Shiism became the official religion of Iran, Shah `Abbas commissioned major restorations at the Ardabil and Mashhad shrines in the early 17th century. Also, he made a substantial charitable gift of manuscripts and porcelains to the Ardabil Shrine and Arabic manuscripts to the Mashhad Shrine. His jewels, jewelled weapons, and gold and silver items were also part of this benefaction. Because the collections of the three shrines are only partly published, the research will involve visiting Iran and studying the works from Ardabil in the National Museum in Tehran and from Mashhad and Qum in the shrines' museums. Some manuscripts from the Ardabil Shrine requiring research are in the Russian National Library, St. Petersburg. \n\nIn order to understand the intention of Shah `Abbas in renovating and endowing the shrines, the research team (primary investigator, co-investigator, and research assistant) will study historical texts, endowment documents and building inscriptions. These texts should help explain not only what Shah `Abbas did but also how his refurbishments and gifts were perceived by the users of the shrines. Work on the Qum shrine should determine to what extent Shah `Abbas I promoted the shrine as a pilgrimage destination and whether he ordered any renovations to its buildings. Some evidence suggests that the Shrine of Fatima Ma`suma at Qum attracted royal women's patronage; further research will elucidat the situation during the reign of Shah `Abbas I.\n\nSince Shah `Abbas's gifts to the shrines included imported items, such as Chinese porcelains, the question of value arises. Did Shah `Abbas give his most precious possessions to the shrines or were his gifts surplus to his needs? Although it may be difficult to tease the answers out of texts, study of manuscript illustrations and album paintings from the period of Shah `Abbas should provide information about the types of objects in use in the first half of the 17th century. A comparison of these items with those given to the shrines should suggest which shapes, motifs, and genres of objects were in fashion in the period of Shah `Abbas.\n\nBecause the Ottoman enemies of Iran controlled Mecca and Medina as well as the holiest Shi`i shrines in Iraq, Shah `Abbas promoted the shrines of Mashhad and Qum as alternative pilgrimage sites. The research project will explore the ways in which Shah `Abbas informed the faithful of the merit of visiting shrines within Iran. Moreover, the architectural changes that he ordered appear to have been motivated by the shah's desire to rationalise spaces for increasing numbers of pilgrims. The project will investigate how Shah `Abbas balanced piety with pragmatism in his gifts and renovations.\n\nThe themes that this project will explore have strong parallels with Shiism in today's world. Pilgrimage to the major Shi`i shrines in Iran and Iraq is still central to the belief system of the Shi`a faithful. Political realities such as the war in Iraq and, previously, the Iran-Iraq war have made it difficult for Iranians to travel to the major Iraqi shrines (Karbala, Najaf, Kazimayn) which has, in turn, heightened the importance of the shrines of Qum and Mashhad. It is hoped that that the elucidation of the historical context of Iran's largest Shi`i shrines will lead to a better understanding of Shiism in modern Iran.

  • Project . 2011 - 2013
    Funder: UKRI Project Code: AH/I003150/1
    Funder Contribution: 253,998 GBP
    Partners: BM

    Hajj, is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam. It is a sacred duty for Muslims, wherever they may reside, to go at least once in their lives, if they are able, to Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation in the early 7th century. Drawing millions of pilgrims annually, Hajj is a powerful bond that draws Muslims together from across the world. It takes place in the 12th month of the Muslim year Dhu'l Hijja. Over the course of one week a number of specific rituals are performed which involve circumambulation of the Ka'ba, the cube-shaped building in the centre of the sanctuary at Mecca, and visiting key sites. Hajj has ancient roots. The Ka'ba is believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael and was the focus of pilgrimage before the coming of Islam. \n\nFrom earliest Islamic times those rulers of Muslim dynasties whose territories encompassed Mecca and Medina looked after and refurbished the two holy sites. They provided shelter along the routes and organised the great annual caravans that took place. These carried the cloth known as the kiswa which was draped on the Ka'ba. The rulers, particularly the Ottomans, gave sumptuous gifts to the shrines. Many of these objects survive today. Before modern travel, the journey was long and hazardous. Pilgrims came from far afield and their journeys are evocatively documented in the form of manuscripts, photographs and wall paintings. Today the holy sites are under the care of the King of Saudi Arabia who has the title, 'Servant of the Two Holy Sites'. On average about two million Muslims from across the world undertake the Hajj.\n\nThis project aims to research the history of the Hajj and the objects associated with it over the length of its history to underpin a major international exhibition and supporting programme of activities.\n\nAn extensive exhibition on the Hajj has not been undertaken before. It will consist of three main interacting elements: \n1) the pilgrim's journey through history with an emphasis on the major routes used; \n2) the Hajj today and the rituals associated with the journey, and, once at Mecca, the rituals involved;\n3) Mecca itself, the destination of the Hajj, its origins and importance. \n\n The research will lead in broad terms to the sourcing of appropriate objects as well as film, photographs and contemporary art that powerfully evoke the sacred and the historical side of this extraordinary phenomenon. It will also lead to a thorough grounding of the source material including the writings of Arab travelers and historical accounts. \n\nThere are therefore a number of distinct avenues of research with a number of key partners. The first focuses on the routes: across Arabia, from the Muslims heartlands, from Africa and across the Indian Ocean as far as China. \n\nEach of these routes will be researched in some cases with key partners who will be major lenders to the exhibition and contributors to the catalogue. For the Darb Zubeyda, for example, key partners are from King Saud University in Riyadh. For the Ottoman period route from Damascus, the majority of the objects are in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul and they will be the second of the key partners. For the trans-Saharan route, the research will examine the journey of the 14th century ruler Mansa Musa and carry out research in the libraries of Timbuktu. Juxtaposed with the medieval period journeys will be to examine the Hajj experience of Muslims coming from Africa today.\n\nAnother important area of research will be to investigate the rich source of Hajj related material, including manuscripts from institutions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Leiden and the bank documents of the Saudi-Hollandi Bank in Saudi Arabia responsible for pilgrims from across South-East Asia. The journeys from eastern and western India will be researched both in pre-modern and modern times. And finally, the journey today from the UK and the experiences of British Muslims.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: AH/H033688/1
    Funder Contribution: 71,339 GBP
    Partners: BM

    The role and the development of prints and drawings during the Renaissance and early modern period in Spain has not been well studied and there is the persistent view that Spanish artists did not make drawings and that print production was negligible. It has been difficult to recognise Spanish drawings and to assess the extent of printmaking because few have been published and collections have been difficult to access. Numerically there were fewer prints and drawings made in Spain than those made elsewhere in Europe, but nonetheless they survive in substantial numbers. \n\nThe critical issue is that Spanish prints and drawings developed differently from other parts of Europe and should be examined in ways to reveal their true significance, grounded in methodologies appropriate to apprehend the conditions of their creation. The assessment of prints and drawings from Spain has developed in the way it has for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most resistant is the isolation of the Iberian peninsular that has historically been regarded as culturally separate to the rest of Europe. The regions of Spain had distinctive characteristics, traditions and systems of artistic patronage and from the fifteenth century, cities evolved as independent artistic centres. Until the second half of the 16th century Spain was a country that imported and not exported artists. \n\nDistinguishing between drawings made in Spain by foreigners and those by local artists has sometimes proved difficult. This raises the question of identity, what is a Spanish drawing? Does a drawing made in Spain, irrespective of its author, promote it as Spanish? The foreign artists who arrived in Spain to work on specific projects brought with them distinctive artistic traditions. The same questions of identity do not apply to prints because the industry was largely home-grown and different conditions influenced their development. \n\nBeginning around 1550, the bulk of this project discusses drawings because the problems surrounding them are more complex. In 1561 Philip II chose Madrid as his capital and two years later decided to build a monastery at Escorial nearby. The decoration of the monastery was the main incentive for the migration of mainly Italian artists to Madrid from the 1560s whose drawing practice had a profound influence on local artists. Philip II was a keen bibliophile and print collector. The Flemish artist Pedro Perret, called to Madrid in 1583, produced a series of engravings of the Escorial that are amongst the most striking architectural prints from the 16th century. \n\nBy the early decades of the 17th century the situation with regard to professional artistic practice changed dramatically. Academies were set up and workshops established to satisfy demands of a growing middle class, the church and in Madrid, the court. Seville was also an important artistic centre. The most important artists there made large numbers of drawings, many of which were for prints. To the north in Córdoba, Antonio del Castillo ran a productive studio and Alonso Cano who worked between Granada and Madrid became a master of architectural drawing. \n\nOne of the main characteristics of Spanish drawings from the mid 16th through to the late 17th that differentiates them from those made in other European countries is their function. Drawings in Spain were tied to specific commissions and there is very little evidence until the late 17th century of academic drawing for drawing sake. In the 18th century Manuel Salvador Carmona led reproductive printmaking and Francisco Goya brought to the medium an entirely new vision. This study will demonstrate the extent of drawing practice and printmaking in Renaissance and early modern Spain, the enormous variety of works and their relation to the other arts, and the conditions under which these works were made.\n

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: AH/T012773/1
    Funder Contribution: 254,758 GBP
    Partners: BM

    Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal will interpret the single most important group of texts from the ancient Near East using a series of interlocking case studies. The 31,000 tablets and fragments found in the ruins of Nineveh, the capital of King Ashurbanipal's (668-631 BCE) empire, have been central to the modern study of Assyrian and Babylonian scholarship for almost two centuries now. Yet the sheer size and complexity of this corpus, together with uncertainties generated by the shortcomings of the pioneering excavation techniques and museological practices, have hindered our understanding of what that collection of texts actually represents. For while we now understand in detail particular texts or groups within the "Library", we know very little about the "Library" itself. A body of interpretations has accumulated, based on the experience of several individual scholars, but the evidence base for these interpretations is very weak. These interpretations are open to serious challenge. Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal addresses the key question: What is "Ashurbanipal's Library", as we know it? The project approaches this question through three subsidiary research objectives, each of which leverages paratextual information to elucidate a significant section of the corpus. The first such objective, "Understanding Colophon Types", systematically analyses the scribal notes appended to Library tablets by establishing a new taxonomy and studying the relationship between the text contained on the tablets and the colophons appended to them. For the first time, it will establish how many tablets from Nineveh bear a library label and how many tablets belonged to collections other than Ashurbanipal's own. The second objective, "Literature in Library Records", correlates the tablets discovered at Nineveh with those mentioned in ancient lists recording acquisitions by Ashurbanipal. This will reveal key information about the scope of his collection, as well as how his library functioned. The third objective, "Tablets to Nineveh", exploits the information provided in the texts about the origin of the originals from which they were copied. The main points to be studied are how scholarly knowledge arrived at Nineveh, what the significance of the Assyrian and Babylonian inputs was, and what form they took. Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal makes it possible for the first time to offer an analysis of the "Library" based on detailed, systematic and thorough surveys of the evidence. It builds on many years of preparatory work, and utilises digital technologies to help overcome the otherwise unmanageable mass of material. The project relies on a series of carefully constructed studies to investigate aspects of the Library that have never been the topic of serious scrutiny, and benefits from the uniquely close relationship of British Museum staff with the collection and from the pioneering methods to study cuneiform tablets developed at LMU Munich.

  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: AH/N009193/1
    Funder Contribution: 30,350 GBP
    Partners: BM

    The current proposal aims to implement a new approach to fieldwork in Egypt by looking at the broad spectrum of history - up until the present day - at multi-layered sites, including efforts to preserve heritage rather than only researching it. The project will undertake and develop a sustainable conservation policy for archaeological sites using the Asyut region in Middle Egypt, and the village of Shutb in particular, as a case-study. Rather than merely looking upon archaeological sites as salvage missions or narrow-eyed academic pursuits, the project supports local interests to better the lives of local communities so that they can function as working partners in preserving the site. The envisioned methodology promotes (1) better integration of preservation and heritage management methodologies and specialists into archaeological fieldwork projects, (2) coordination and collaboration amongst different institutions and agencies concerned with heritage preservation, (3) engaging with local communities, local heritage professionals and other stakeholders through training and capacity building by hands-on experience and implementation of policies. To achieve these goals, the British Museum will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of Egypt-based consultants and local stakeholders to develop a set of protection measures in order to uphold Shutb's archaeological value, to prevent further decay of the historic fabric and to enhance the socio-economic (living) conditions of the inhabitants. To this means, two seasons of fieldwork in Shutb will include a series of surveys and meetings to assess the impact and perception of the village's presence on the archaeological remains, identifying and prioritizing meaningful ways of intervention and a documentation training mission. Many of the defined threats to heritage also negatively affect people's health, such as proximity to garbage disposal and ground and water pollution. The gathered survey data will be used to define programmes to reduce and redirect garbage dumping and improve waste and water management systems of residential units to reduce ground pollution and increase personal health. Depending on the outcome of the community meetings and interviews; the project will develop solutions to the community's most pressing needs. Such an all-inclusive approach has never been tested in Egypt, where fieldwork has traditionally been physically and intellectually separated from the surrounding environment and communities. It is, however, an opportune moment to develop more sustainable methodologies as ancient tells are at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change.Through collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, the impact of the established methodology can be accelerated if implemented at other sites or -even more fundamentally- incorporated into governmental strategies.