Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Arthur Upham Pope and His 'Research Methods in Muhammadan Art': Persian Carpets

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Arthur Upham Pope and His 'Research Methods in Muhammadan Art': Persian Carpets

Article excerpt

In 1925 Arthur Upham Pope (1881-1969) published a short article in The Art Bulletin, entitled 'Research Methods in Muhammadan Art'.1 Despite its overarching title, the article contains only a very brief introductory remark regarding the general weakness of current criticism within this emerging field of research, and is in fact directed critically towards an article on Persian medallion carpets by Maurice S. Dimand (1892-1986), then the curator in charge of the newly created section for Islamic art in the Department of Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.2 While Pope's decision to write this article is likely to have been motivated by his steadily and profoundly deteriorating personal relationship with Dimand - who, together with other Islamic art historians of his generation, was to become a major rival to Pope3 - it is interesting to take a close look at the article from a historiographical perspective.

Before turning to a more detailed look at Pope's carpet discourse, the use of the terms 'Oriental' and 'Persia' should be addressed. Throughout the present article, the term 'Oriental' is used as an overarching label for carpets or rugs originating from the Middle East and West Asia: this reflects the use of this term during the 1920s, and its use in Pope's publications of that time. Although it is a historical term that may convey an art-historiographically provocative stance in current academic parlance, 'Oriental' is still widely used in carpet studies, a point to which this article will return below.4 Another umbrella term employed here - 'Persia' - has provoked terminological controversies as to whether it should be replaced with 'Iran'. Yet the use of 'Persia' in the context of 'Oriental' carpet discourse in this article has nothing to do with the modern state of Iran, its official language and its literature. Rather it is here used adjectivally to refer to a form of carpet that was perceived as a collectable and marketable item in the Euro-American world prior to 1935, and thus before the name Iran was internationally recognized. The fact that the terms 'Iran' and 'Persia' are still entangled in carpet discourse indicates the near-impossibility of setting a clear border between these interchangeable terms.5

Although Pope is widely known as the pioneer of Iranian art studies in the West, especially for his monumental Survey of Persian Art (1938-9),6 his career development prior to the London International Exhibition of Persian Art held in 1931 was circuitous. Born on Rhode Island and educated at Brown University in Providence, Pope moved to California to take up a teaching position at University of California Berkeley. Initially pursuing an academic career in philosophy and aesthetics, he became involved in the art business soon after he leftthe university environment in the late 1910s as a result of the scandal caused by his involvement with his then student Phyllis Ackerman (1893-1977).7 By the time the Art Bulletin article had appeared, Pope had been an independent scholar for nearly ten years and had established close connections with private collectors and museums, working as a consultant in order to make a living, and often styling his expertise as 'antique, Oriental rugs and decorative arts', along with 'tapestries' under the name of his wife and colleague, Phyllis Ackerman.8 Among the media in which Pope specialized, carpets always took a special position in his personal and professional life. Having been intrigued by the beauty of rugs from the Islamic world since his younger days, Pope entered into this field first as a self-taught connoisseur, then an amateur scholar and later a professional consultant, advising legendary American collectors such as George Hewitt Myers (1875-1957), the founder of the Textile Museum in Washington DC, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1875-1960), one of the major philanthropists of this time.9 Myers in particular established something of a love-hate relationship with Pope. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.