Leading in Art History Research

Leading in Art History Research

Research is The Courtauld’s lifeblood, underpinning the work of our university and gallery, and contributing to our reputation as the world’s pre-eminent place to study the history, conservation and curation of art

With support from a coalition of donors, including The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Sackler Trust and an anonymous supporter, The Sackler Research Forum is an essential component of our research environment. It offers a full programme of fellowships and events that brings together experts across a range of specialisms for lively debate, facilitates cutting-edge research and provides a platform for engaging a wide audience in urgent conversations about art history.

Over the past year, the Research Forum has continued to experiment, innovate and challenge current understanding about what art history is, who it is for and how it intersects with other fields.

Crossing Frontiers: Christians, Muslims and their art in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus

Crossing Frontiers: Christians, Muslims and their art in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus


Since 2016, an international network of scholars has been engaged in a unique programme investigating cross-cultural interactions along the eastern frontier between Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages. Supported by the Getty Foundation, Crossing Frontiers covers the vast region of Anatolia, the Caucasus and the western Iranian world. The group has travelled to eastern Turkey (2016), Armenia (2016), and Georgia (2017) and the final seminar is planned for Jerusalem in December 2018.

Professor Antony Eastmond (PhD 1992), Dean and Deputy Director; A. G. Leventis Professor in the History of Byzantine Art, and Dr Niamh Bhalla (PhD 2014), Associate Lecturer, explain how the project is bringing new perspectives to the rich artistic and cultural history of this region.

A pluralistic approach to the history of art and culture

In the 12th to 14th centuries, four worlds met in the region now recognised as eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus: the Christian cultures of Anatolia and the Caucasus, the Turkic cultures of Anatolia, the Arabic culture of Syria that reached into northern Mesopotamia and the Persian culture of Iranian Azerbaijan. The resulting collision of many empires, cultures, ethnicities and religions created complex and diverse monuments and works of art, such as ceramics, metalwork and manuscripts.

A fundamental aim of this project is to reunite the study of these works of art and architecture, many of which use a shared visual language, to develop a nuanced understanding of the history of the region that transcends today’s political, religious and national borders.

"This is a fascinating opportunity to recreate what it must have been like when people were flowing across the region without any of the divides that hamper art history and tourism today." – Professor Antony Eastmond

Bringing together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of specialists

The project has been especially successful in connecting scholars with an array of disciplinary, cultural and religious perspectives who are at different stages in their careers. Many of the participants come from the modern nation states that now occupy this landscape, namely Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran, and specialise in art history, history and liturgy.

This diversity has allowed us to approach the subject matter from many viewpoints: we might be viewing the same work, but the questions asked by each participant are very different. This creates an ideal environment for collaboration. We have a rule that everyone has to sit beside a different person at each meal during a trip; one that has served to stimulate some of the most productive and engaging conversations of the project!

Mapping cross-cultural interactions

Over the course of the project, we have gathered important and detailed information on the sites we have visited. The Crossing Frontiers website is a valuable resource for those in the field, holding images, interactive plans, 360 degree views, descriptions and bibliographies on a range of building types, including monasteries, mosques and madrasas, churches and caravanserais, bridges, bathhouses and palaces. These sites are usually studied separately, categorised and divided according to religion or culture.

Following the project’s ethos, no immediate categorisation or distinction is imposed upon the buildings, evoking the pluralistic world of this region in the Middle Ages. Our hope is that our findings will inspire further research into the networks of patrons and builders who traversed Anatolia and the Caucasus, and the common motifs and techniques that they carried with them.

Click here to find out more about the project.

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