Goods of the Earth: Making and Marketing in the Pre-Mongol Islamic World

By Corinne Mühlemann

In the project Goods of the Earth: Making and Marketing in the Pre-Mongol Islamic World I am scrutinizing the genre of the so-called isba-manuals: Islamic legal sources which contain the available rules compiled by the muḥtasib or the market inspector. By investigating the Kitāb fī ādāb al-isba al-Saqaṭī (d. around 1100), who was the market inspector of Málaga, I will demonstrate that his normative warnings contain detailed information about the quality of craft objects as well as their making and that this genre of legal text reflects the marketplace, its products and its artisan-craftsmen. I am particularly interested in three subjects the isba-manuals shed light to:

  • The Making of Lampas Woven Silks
    It is my first objective to discuss the modalities of transferring weaving knowledge of a new binding called lampas – a technique that is thought to have been developed in Baghdad at the end of the eleventh century and will dominate the production of luxurious silks globally until the eighteenth century – between Baghdad and al-Andalus, and if and how this knowledge was bound to patterns and their notation. So far, we lack any material of notation systems of pattern repeats containing technical information which the “pattern-installer” understands how to install onto the drawloom. Translating a pattern, first drawn on a two-dimensional surface like paper, into a notation system representing the three-dimensional structure of a drawloom is a mathematical process that leads to the question about the social role of the weaver.
  • The Social Role of the Weaver
    Intriguingly, not only in the isba-manuals but also in other legal and theological writings, the profession of the weaver is highly charged with values (negative as well as positive). It is not clear why a negative stigma was attached to weavers. It adds to the complexity that some of the early legal theorists were involved in the production of textiles or in their trade. Furthermore, the making of a lampas woven silk (complexity of drawlooms and notation systems) require mathematical knowledge. My aim is to achieve a more differentiated perception of the weaver and his work as well as the organization and division of labor within textile production.
  • Other Artifacts
    The isba-manuals allow to discover other artifacts than textiles and their processes of making in the pre-Mongol marketplace. Objects of everyday life haven’t attracted much scholarly attention within the field of Art History. Bread seals, for example, are fascinating objects that show a wide spectrum of patterns and illustrate the variety of products that were produced at the medieval marketplace and will be revealed by Goods of the Earth.

Exploring the pre-Mongol marketplaces through the isba of al- Saqaṭī as well as other muḥtasibs, its products and artisan-craftsmen will gather new information concerning the transfer of knowledge and will enable new discussion of art and craft in the field of Art History, Islamic Art History, History of Science and Textile History. Furthermore, this project will show the importance of the Applied Arts for the field of Art History.