Since its discovery in 1897, the early Islamic bath house of Qusayr ‘Amra (Jordan; AD 730s) has been celebrated for its figural wall paintings, the meanings of which have been much debated. Following the spectacular discoveries of new images after the recent cleaning of the paintings, Nadia Ali has identified scenes inspired by the Aethiopica, a 4th-century romance composed by Heliodorus, a Syrian outsider from Emesa (modern Homs) assimilated within Graeco-Roman culture. Taking this discovery as its starting point, the lecture looks in two directions: forward, to new and emerging ways to examine images and texts together, and backward, to earlier efforts expended in understanding the paintings. It thus aims to illuminate a history of what Qusayr ‘Amra has been, as well as to generate a new vision of what it might become.
About the speaker:
Nadia Ali is an associate researcher based at the IREMAM, University of Aix-Marseille, and studies the emergence of early Islamic art in the context of late antiquity. She was trained in art history, Islamic studies, and Arabic at the University of Aix-Marseille. Her educational and professional background spans France, the Middle East, the USA, Germany, and the UK. From 2018 to 2020, she was a faculty fellow at Silsila: Center for Material Histories (New York University). Before that, she was a postdoctoral researcher in the five-year Empires of Faith project based at Oxford University and the British Museum (2013–2018). She has just completed her first book, provisionally entitled Qusayr ‘Amra: The Pandora’s Box of Early Islamic Aesthetics, and she is currently working on a new book project, which has been in progress on and off for a decade now: Potent Images in Late Antique Arabia.