PROFESSOR ROBERT HILLENBRAND was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and has spent most of his career teaching at the University of Edinburgh, with visiting professorships at Princeton, UCLA, Bamberg, Leiden, Dartmouth College, New York, Cairo and Groningen. He is currently teaching as professorial fellow of Islamic art at the University of St Andrews. His scholarly interests focus on Islamic architecture, painting and iconography, with particular reference to Iran and early Islamic Syria. His 11 books include “Imperial Images in Persian Painting; Islamic Art and Architecture” (revised and expanded edition, 2021); “The Architecture of Ottoman Jerusalem: An Introduction;” the prize-winning “Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning;” “The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. A Landmark of Modern Islamic Architecture;” “An Unknown Masterpiece from Mongol Iran;” “Islamic Architecture in North Africa” (co-author) and four volumes of his collected articles: “Studies in Medieval Islamic Architecture” I and II; “Studies in the Islamic Arts of the Book;” and “Studies in the Islamic Decorative Arts.” In addition, he has edited or co-edited 13 books. He has also published some 180 articles on aspects of Islamic art and architecture and organised 10 conferences. He has served as Slade professor of art at Cambridge and is a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The Dome in Islamic Architecture
The Islamic dome has multiple aspects that lend themselves to investigation. First, it may claim to be the single outstanding feature of Islamic architecture. It is certainly so regarded in popular Western culture: for example in illustrations to tales from the 1001 Nights in modern films and books for children, and the exotic high-end illustrated books produced c.1900-1925 by Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, Kay Nielsen and their peers. Second, the combination of dome and minaret, with its satisfying juxtaposition of aspiration and stability, the slender and the volumetric, the angular and the curvilinear, has caught the imagination of many. It is a particularly favoured topos, both in a symbolic sense as an instant evocation of an undefined Islamic world and as a characteristic set piece beloved of Muslim architects for over a millennium. Third, it has other-worldly, spiritual, connotations. These are presaged in several pre-Islamic cultures, and scholars such as Lehmann and Soper have traced the concept of the “dome of heaven” over millennia and across the Eurasian landmass long before the Umayyad caliph Mu‘awiya erected the Qubbat al-Khadra next to the Great Mosque of Damascus, whose mosaics evoked Paradise itself. Domes from Spain to India took up the theme for the next thousand years. Fourth is the dome as memorial, as in Islam’s first great masterpiece, the Dome of the Rock, and countless mausolea thereafter. Finally, the unique innovations, both structural and decorative, that Islam brought to domical architecture will receive due attention.
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