Open Lecture: The Writing on the Wall

«The Writing on the Wall: The Poetics of Architectural Inscription in Medieval Andalusia and the Early Modern Persian World»

Paul Losensky (Indiana University – Bloomington)

May 3rd, 2023


Calligraphy and the written word cover buildings throughout the Islamic world from Andalusia to India. Cast in tile, carved in stone, or cut into stucco, calligraphic forms dominate the surface decoration of both courtly and religious architecture. Though many patterns are based on the repetition of single words or formulaic phrases, other inscriptions feature poems written specifically for their architectural setting, integrating poetry into the material fabric of the structure.

This lecture will examine the rhetoric and poetics of these architectural inscriptions from the late medieval Nasirid palace in Granada to the Mughal royal gardens of Kashmir. As they commemorate the building as a sign of the wealth and power of its patron, these inscriptions also guide the viewers’ gaze to specific architectural features and direct their movements around the structure. In others, the building speaks for itself, celebrating its beauty and explicating the significance of its visual form. Even when the inscription has the basic function of providing the date of the building’s construction, it draws its readers into the somatic experience and semantic meaning of the architectural structure.