Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Caroline Williams

Williamsburg, VA

Cairo as an Artifact of 19th Century Imagery

After Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt at the end of the 18th century, Cairo became accessible to Western travelers, as a city and a culture. Artists who came during the nineteenth century delighted in the city which medieval authors had described as “peerless in beauty and splendor” and as the “thronging place of nations.” Their “painterly” depictions of Cairo’s remarkable Islamic heritage brought Orientalist art to its fullest bloom. In portraying the intricate beauty of its manifold architectural styles and the visible aspects of its religious faith, these Orientalist painters have left us with a visual legacy of a time and place otherwise forever vanished. These paintings are also “texts” which can still be read with profit. My presentation will be an opportunity to share with you a few highlights of these paintings.

Caroline Williams received her BA from Radcliffe College in history, and MA degrees from Harvard University in Middle Eastern studies and from the American University in Cairo in Islamic art and architecture. Her publications have focused on various aspects of Islamic art & architecture, historical and urban Cairo, Orientalist artists and photographers, and 20th century painting in Egypt, and include: Islamic Monuments of Cairo: The Practical Guide (AUC Press, 2008, 6th edition, revised and updated since 1985), and most recently a significant contribution to Masterpieces of Orientalist Art: The Shafik Gabr Collection (2014). In the late 1970s, she co-published sets of slides and texts with John A. Williams on architecture in ancient Egypt, Islamic Cairo and India; in 2000, she wrote the text for a three-part VHS/DVD on Islamic Cairo, and in 2001 was a consultant for Living with the Past, a film on monuments and ecology in the Darb al-Ahmar, produced by E.W. Fernea. She has taught courses in art and architecture in Cairo, at the University of Texas, Austin, and in Virginia at the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth College, The College of William and Mary, as well as being an escort-lecturer on various art and academic tours in Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia and Spain.