Kaaba Tiles (more questions than answers)

Ever since my recent visit to Istanbul, Kaaba tiles have been swirling around in my mind. I first discovered them during a trip to Turkey two years ago, when I thought that I’d get home and look them up on the magical interwebs and find information and images to sift through to my heart’s delight. Not so much. Before we go further, here’s one, from the Mosque of Rustem Pasa (in Istanbul):

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Kaaba tile, Mosque of Rustem Pasa, Istanbul

Just look at it for a minute – see the Kaaba (the black rectangle) in the middle? See the minarets around the outside? See how there are six? Well, a seventh one was added to the actual mosque that surrounds the Kaaba after the Blue Mosque (Mosque of Sultan Ahmed) in Istanbul was built with six minarets. Of course, the mosque at Mecca, the center of Islam, had to have one more. So a seventh one was built at the Al-Masjid al-Haram (surrounding the Kaaba and meaning “the sacred mosque”) in 1629. Does that mean that this tile dates to before 1629? It seems like it must, but as with most questions about these tiles, then again, it may not.

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Hasan, Raphael, and the Epic Toga Party (The Stanza della Segnatura)

This post is part of a celebration in honor of Hasan Niyazi, the writer behind Three Pipe Net (see below), and his favorite artist, Raphael. For more contributions to this collection by some fabulous art history writers, blogger, and teachers, click here.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a big fan of Raphael, and I never thought I’d write about him. Too sweet, too stable, too predictable. When I was studying the Italian Renaissance, I was more into the bad boys: Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Fra Lippo Lippi (who I would put in the bad boy category, monk or no). So when I started blogging and connected with Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem, I had a hard time understanding his passion for Raphael. Don’t get me wrong – I was inspired by and respected his passion. It was the object of his passion that baffled me. But as I started writing this and thinking about Raphael again, I remembered the Stanza della Segnatura (part of the Stanze di Raffaello, rooms in the Vatican painted by Raphael and his workshop). When I went back to look at what Hasan had to say about this painting, I couldn’t find a post that centered around it. I did, however, find the Schools of Athens (one of the works in the Stanza della Segnatura) referenced in a post about a documentary on Raphael (in which Hasan reiterates his disdain for “those talented miscreants, the Pre-Raphaelites [and] their childish choice of name”); a mention in a post on the artist as subject (Raphael included himself in the School of Athens); in a post in which he ran a contest, asking people to answer the question, “Which famous Rock group features a reference to Raphael’s School of Athens on an album cover. What was the album name? Hint: it was a double album”; and in a post on the evolution of Raphael’s style in which he says, “Whether Raphael’s striving for classical perfection gels with you or not, it is hard to argue against the fact that he had supreme technical ability as a painter. This ability, his positive outlook on learning from the past, and talent for adapting these lessons into innovations gave him a special place in the hearts and minds of scholars and creative artists alike.” This was a man who loved his Raphael.

So, in memory and celebration Hasan and Raphael, let me tell you briefly what I love about the Stanza della Segnatura.

School of Athens

Raffaello Sanzio di Urbino (Raphael), School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome, 1509.

First, the paintings are frescoes, my favorite paint medium. The way that the paint becomes one with the wall is a fascinating process. I can’t get enough of it. Second, the paintings in this room are essentially part of the architecture; the scenes are meant to look as if they extend back from the room, and I think they do. Don’t you feel like you could step up into that scene?

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Verulamium: It Gets Personal

Every once in a while, I feel the need to return to my art history roots. I was thinking about this today and wondering exactly what that means. What are my art history roots? The first art history I studied was that of the Italian Renaissance, like so many of us, but I’d say that my roots actually go back to the year I spent in England when I was 10 years old. I think that even at that point, it was in my blood. It was certainly already in my environment: My dad was a historian who always included art in the classes that he taught, and my mom was also an art lover, particularly interested in the Impressionists. So when we went to England, we hit as many cathedrals, museums, and historical sites as possible. One that really sticks in my mind is Verulamium — Roman ruins that were so nearby, we went there repeatedly.

Verulamium, Roman Amphitheatre, 140 CE, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England

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