Associate Professor of Art History Maria Maurer studies the recognition and representation of mistresses as integral members of courtly society in early modern Italian life and art. Rather than shame and adultery, some of these women were publicly associated with piety and magnificence. In this experTU episode, Maurer offers Isabella Boschetti as an example of the positive reception adulterous lovers of noblemen sometimes received.
We tend to think of architecture as a particularly public form of art patronage. And, after teaching undergraduates for years, I can say that our educational system tends to elide histories of gender and space before the modern era. What I mean is that my students tend to think that early modern women, especially Muslim women, had no access to public life. This is patently false. While many Muslim homes of this period had a harem, it was hardly full of scantily clad concubines. Rather, the harem was (and remains) the place reserved for the family; visitors and even strangers could often access other areas of the house.
Access to architectural patronage was more a matter of class than gender. Early modern architectural patrons were elite individuals with access to social, political and financial capital. Muslim women were active as builders of tombs, religious shrines and lodges, mosques and public works projects such as markets and baths. While they derived their social and political power from their male family members, Muslim women could own property and amass wealth. Unlike in much of Europe where Salic Law prohibited most forms of female inheritance, the Qur’an guarantees women a share of family property
Tuman Aqa, one of the many wives of Timur, is a case in point. During her time as Timur’s wife, Tuman Aqa (also spelled Tuman Agha) paid for the construction of a mosque, a Sufi lodge, and the bazaar of hat sellers in the city of Samarkand (modern Uzbekistan). After Timur’s death, Tuman Aqa ruled the town of Kuhsan as a fiefdom in the name of her son, where she built another Sufi lodge, a madrasa, and an inn for the traveling traders responsible for most of the commerce in the region.
Many of these buildings are in ruins, but her mausoleum in Samarkand still stands. Constructed around 1404, the building consists of a commanding turquoise dome sitting on top of a drum decorated with geometric patterns and inscriptions created with glazed tiles. Inside, the dome is supported by luminous muqarnas that glisten in the pale light. Inscriptions laud Tuman Aqa’s dynastic connections and praise her merits. The building is located within a larger funerary precinct known as Shah-i-Zinda, which houses a shrine to Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad who lived in the 7th century CE. Thus, Tuman Aqa was able to place her own mausoleum near that of a revered Muslim leader, ensuring that later generations would see her tomb and remember her while visiting the site.
Yet, Tuman Aqa is also a case of women’s continued invisibility. She lacks a Wikipedia page. Tuman Aqa’s buildings and her memory have been almost completely erased by time, warfare and neglect. As of 2019, the State Party of Uzbekistan submitted contentious conservation plans for Shah-i-Zinda to UNESCO, but it’s unclear whether Tuman Aqa’s mausoleum will be part of the larger restoration or allowed to deteriorate further.
Presently in her final semester at The University of Tulsa, art history and anthropology student Piper Prolago is drawing her studies to a close on a high note: She has recently been named a Global Winner in the annual Global Undergraduate Awards.
This annual awards program is an essay competition that invites undergraduates from around the world to submit essays they had previously written for a course. There are 25 categories, and Prolago entered her paper in Art History & Theory.
Prolago’s essay, “A Mughal Miraj: Imagining the Prophet in the Newark Khamsa Manuscript,” was written for a course on Islamic art and architecture taught by Associate Professor of Art History Maria Maurer. In her essay, Prolago analyzed a manuscript that was part of the Philbrook Museum’s “Wondrous Worlds” exhibition of Islamic art. Lara Foley, the director of TU’s Office of Integrative and Experiential Learning, had alerted Prolago to the competition and encouraged her to apply.
“I was really excited to be honored with this distinction,” remarked Prolago, who is also a student in TU’s Honors program and a Global Scholar. “I was surprised when they notified me that I had been selected as a Global Winner out of students attending universities all over the world. This honor makes me really proud of the work I’ve done, and I think it also speaks to the excellence of TU’s art history faculty and their creation of opportunities for students to produce original scholarship.”
“I am so proud of Piper,” said Maurer. “Her essay, which explored an unusual image of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, was the best out of a class of really strong papers. Piper’s work was sensitive to the unusual visuals of the painting and its manuscript setting, and her research demonstrated that this image is part of a larger attempt to legitimize the Mughals within the context of the rivalry with the Safavids, as well as to demonstrate Mughal piety to their subjects. Piper made a genuine contribution to the field of art history by crafting such an elegant and persuasive argument about a previously unknown painting.”
A rich history of exploration and mentorship
Casting her gaze over her busy time at TU, Prolago underscores the role a number of faculty have played in her scholarly development. “Professor Maurer does such a great job of teaching from unique perspectives and diversifying the way we learn about art history,” said Prolago. “Her courses have enabled me to build foundational knowledge in the discipline of art history, but also to think more globally and widely.”
Another faculty member whom Prolago cites as having helped and inspired her is Associate Professor of Art History Kirsten Olds. “Whether offering support for my coursework or being a great mentor who’s helped guide me through the process of applying to graduate school, Professor Olds demonstrates the importance of having faculty who genuinely care about their students.”
For her part, Olds is equally impressed with Prolago: “Piper is the kind of student one remembers for their entire career. I would look forward to our weekly meetings to discuss her senior project. Her intellectual interests are so varied, from repatriation issues to graffiti and street art, public art policy, Filipino culture and contemporary photography by artists in the Middle East. But a throughline is her engagement with global issues in a sustained and meaningful way. I can’t wait to see what she’ll work on in her graduate studies.”
In addition to coursework and being mentored, a formative experience for Prolago was her participation during her sophomore year in the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ research fellowship program. Led by the center’s director Sean Latham, the program brought together an interdisciplinary cohort of students, faculty and community members to explore the theme of play. “This experience was really meaningful for me because it empowered me to think about complex issues from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Prolago.
The finish line and beyond
During her final semester, Prolago is keeping extra busy as the editor in chief of the university’s newspaper, The Collegian. “This role is a lot of fun,” Prolago commented. “And having an organization like this is particularly important at a college that doesn’t have a journalism department. It’s gratifying to be able to carve out a space for students who want to explore journalism.”
As she looks to her future adventures, Prolago has her hopes set on studying art history at the graduate level. In particular, she wants to further her research in public art. “I believe public art is so important, particularly as we’re seeing a lot of momentum in rethinking the kinds of values we choose to uplift in public spaces,” commented Prolago. “As we tear down figures whose legacies represent a lot of pain and hate, we’re tasked with not only rethinking whose stories get to be represented, but also about why we’ve excluded so many people from those stories.”
For her part, Prolago is set on being part of what she calls “the conversation” about art’s role in creating a more inclusive future.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.