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Global Connections: Islamic Art at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Research  Aims

Strand A: The Alhambra in Britain

Through a critical re-assessment of the history of the Alhambra Palace in Granada and its reception, this project asks how Islamic artistic traditions were codified, interpreted and presented to Western audiences in the 19th century, setting the foundations for dominant frameworks in the history of the relationship between ‘Islamic’ and ‘Western’ art.

Strand B: The life and afterlife of the Adès collection of medieval Persian ceramics

This project seeks to bridge the gap in narratives and approaches between art history, archaeology and museological practice in the study of museum objects using the Adès collection of medieval Persian glazed ceramics as case study. We aim to develop a non-invasive analytical protocol and use it to identify the signatures of the workshops that made the Adès collection pieces. More broadly, this will allow us to characterise the organisation of stonepaste production in Seljuq Iran, and ultimately reconstruct the life and afterlife of the Adès pieces, highlighting the people and agencies involved in their journey.

Research Project Summary

Global Connections: Islamic Art at the Fitzwilliam Museum brings together a group of experts for a collaborative reappraisal of objects from the Islamic World in the Museum’s collection. The project includes two major strands of investigation.

First, analysis of early nineteenth-century plaster casts from the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the city-fortress of the last Muslim kingdom in Europe. Currently in poor condition, these objects are uniquely important in documenting the decorative programme of the Alhambra as it appeared in the 1830s, before creative restoration works by a Spanish architectural team radically altered the site. The project seeks to conserve a selection of the casts, commission 3D scans, and broaden the debate to wider scholarly circles through the establishment of new, collaborative research networks and relationships.

Second, analysis of mediaeval Iranian ceramics from the Adès collection. By looking at the objects’ production and exchange during and after their use-life, we are exploring how meaning was accumulated throughout their journey. Our findings will guide us in developing a new interpretation for Persian mediaeval ceramics, highlighting the people involved in their story. Our rich programme of dissemination activities, aimed at scholars and the public, will help cement the project’s contribution to decolonising non-Western art.


Related publications

‘Casting the Alhambra Palace in Victorian Britain: Sir Grenville Temple and the Fitzwilliam’. Paper presented by Research Associate, Dr Marta Cacho Casal, at the conference titled ‘Hispanic Art in British Regional Collections: History, Display, Research’ (County Durham, UK, 22th–23rd September, 2022).

‘The Alhambra at the Fitzwilliam Museum’, article in preparation by Flavia Ravaioli, Deniz Turker and Marta Cacho Casal (peer-review expected in 2024). This publication presents key findings on the casts’ making, collecting and history, up until their recent rediscovery, within the context of changing museological practices around both plaster casts and Islamic art. 

Project team

Principal Investigator: Flavia Ravaioli, Research Associate and Senior Objects Conservator, Fitzwilliam Museum

Marta Cacho Casal, Department of Art History, University of Cambridge

Stefano Legnaioli, Institute of Chemistry of Organometallic Compounds, Pisa

Mariam Rosser-Owen, Victoria and Albert Museum

Carmen Ting, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge

Deniz Turker, Department of Art History, Rutgers University 

Outcomes of the project




Funders and partners

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