Bernard O’Kane. Geometry, Art, and Ideology in Fatimid, Zangid and Ayyubid Egypt and Syria

Dr. Bernard O’Kane is Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at The American University in Cairo, where he has been teaching since 1980. He has also been a visiting professor at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of several books including The Mosques of Egypt and Timurid Architecture  in Khorasan, as well as Studies in Arab Architecture: The Collected Papers of Bernard O’Kane (Edinburgh University Press, 2021). O’Kane is also an avid photographer and recently directed the creation of the Monumental Inscriptions of Cairo database.

Geometry, Art, and Ideology in Fatimid, Zangid and Ayyubid Egypt and Syria
The mathematical study of geometric patterns in Islamic art has advanced considerably in recent years through the publication of several seminal works, chief among them in terms of its encyclopaedic coverage being Jay Bonner’s Islamic Geometric Patterns: Their Historical Development and Traditional Methods of Construction. Does this help us with regard to the now long-running controversy over the purported ideological uses of geometric patterns, which have been connected with the Sunni revival of Nur al-Din and the Ayyubids? Is Bonner’s conclusion on his chapter on the Fatimids: “…the fact of the virtually exclusive use of the system of regular polygons to create their geometric ornament can be regarded, at least in part, as more a willful continuation of the earlier methodological practices and geometric aesthetic of their Tulunid predecessors, and less an influence by the art of their Sunni rivals” helpful in resolving this dispute? The talk will re-examine the evidence in the light of these new analyses.


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