Elizabeth Lambourn, “Ali Akbar’s Red Horse: collecting Arab horses in the early modern culture of Empire”
Thursday, May 22, 3:30 pm, Encina Hall West, Room 208
Elizabeth Lambourn (De Montfort University), “Ali Akbar’s Red Horse: Collecting Arab horses in the Early Modern Culture of Empire”
Abstract: The Islamicate world has barely featured thus far in the new academic study of collecting, collectors and collections, certainly nowhere in proportion to its vast geographical and temporal extent. This research contributes to this nascent bibliography with a study of the relationships between merchant brokers and court collectors in seventeenth century India, as they emerge through the case study of ‘Ali Akbar Isfahani and his provision of “jewels and horses” to the Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan. In particular, this paper explores the ways that we might think of Shah Jahan’s acquisition and stabling of Arab horses as a collecting activity and of Shah Jahan as a collector – and indeed exhibitor – of horses. These activities are understood within the larger frame of Solomonic kingship and courtly emulations of the divan of Solomon in the Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman courts. Specifically, this paper proposes that in Islamicate cultures all Arab horses were understood to be descended from a group of magical, winged horses first tamed by Solomon; Arabs thus represented tangible, material links to this important figure and through this participated in wider Solomonic choreographies. This case study builds on, and contributes to, ongoing conversations about the centrality of equestrianism and horse-keeping in early modern European culture, in the process opening new, unexplored pathways for the history of Asian horse-keeping, court collections and connoisseurship. Ali Akbar’s red horse queries and disrupts some of Asian art’s more established taxonomies and argues for a less object-centric, more holistic view of what was collected, by whom, how and why, in early modern Eurasia.
Elizabeth Lambourn is Associate Professor in South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at De Montfort University, and Visiting Scholar in Stanford’s Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Islamic art and archaeology from School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. As a historian of Islamic South Asia and the Indian Ocean world, she has multiple disciplinary and theoretical interests including historical anthropology, historical archaeology, geography and visual and material culture studies. Her current research focuses on the mobility of people, things and ideas across this area in the medieval and early modern periods. She is currently completing her book, West Asia in the Indian Ocean 500-1500 CE, a study of the worlds of West Asian communities and networks in the Indian Ocean during this critical millennium
[Co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia, Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, and Archaeology Center]