Event – November 18 | Royal Ontario Museum: From Cradle to Grave: Fabrics in the Lives of Women in Medieval Cairo

The Fatimid dynasty that ruled Egypt from 969 to 1171, famously intensified and perfected the production of textiles and the tiraz style in particular.

During their reign, Egypt became the most important centre for the export of this precious commodity across the Mediterranean and beyond.

Presented in Partnership by the Royal Ontario Museum and His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada.

EVENT: From Cradle to Grave: Fabrics in the Lives of Women in Medieval Cairo
SPEAKER: Delia Cortese, Middlesex University
DATE: Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
TIME: 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST
VENUE: Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre, 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6 Canada

Tiraz fragment Linen tabby with silk tapestry Egypt 996 - 1021 (ROM)
Tiraz fragment Linen tabby with silk tapestry Egypt 996 – 1021 (ROM)

This lecture charts the varied ways in which social interaction with textiles and their production informed the fabric of life of women in medieval Cairo.

The Fatimid dynasty that ruled Egypt from 969 to 1171, famously intensified and perfected the production of textiles and the tiraz style in particular. During their reign, Egypt became the most important centre for the export of this precious commodity across the Mediterranean and beyond.

This ‘industrial revolution’ had a life-changing impact on most men and women, be they of royal lineage or common folks. Women became not just consumers of textiles, but also producers, traders and investors. As ladies-in-waiting in charge of the wardrobe of the royal household, they acquired prestige and visibility.

Women belonging to the upper echelon of society could display publicly their status and authority through what they wore but also through the fabrics they gave as gifts. In furnishing their houses with silks or wools women from all strands of life could assert their styles and aspirations. In death, lavish shrouds or simple wraps served as the ultimate mark of respect to accompany women in their final journey.

Extant material evidence dating to the time under discussion provides us with a colourful visual ‘catalogue’ of styles that were popular among women of medieval Egypt. The variety of patterns and uses of the textiles shown in artefacts ranging from ivories to pottery places their wearers at the centre of a rich, cosmopolitan cultural universe that remained unrivalled for some 250 years.

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About Dr Delia Cortese

Dr Delia Cortese is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies and University Religious Studies Co-ordinator. She is also Middlesex University Link Tutor for several collaborative partner institutions delivering MU-validated programmes in the areas of Theology and Religious Studies.

She holds a PhD in Islamic Studies awarded by the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her other academic qualifications include a Laurea (Summa cum laude) in Oriental Languages and Civilisations (Arabic and Persian), awarded by the Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples (Italy) a postgraduate diploma in Islamic Codicology, al-Furqan Foundation, London and a postgraduate diploma in Arabic language, American University, Cairo (Egypt). Dr Cortese was also post-doctoral fellow of the Istituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli (now Universita’ di Napoli L’Orientale) caring out research on women in the Fatimid period.

Dr Cortese is Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Prior and, for some time, in conjunction with her work at Middlesex University, she was Visiting Professor in Religious Studies at Regents’ American College London and Research Assistant (Middle East Department). Bernard Quaritch LTD, Antiquarian Booksellers.

Dr Cortese’s current and past external appointments are: 2013-To present: External Examiner for the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London and in 2008-2012, External Examiner for TRS University of Roehampton, London.

Dr Delia Cortese’s area of research is medieval Islam, particularly Ismaili studies and the Fāṭimid period. In recent years she has been focusing on gender and social history, Islamic codicology, and the interrelationship between Europe and the Islamic world. Beside Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (with S. Calderini, Edinburgh University Press, 2006), she is also the author of Arabic Ismaili Manuscripts: The Zahid Ali Collection, IB Tauris, 2003 and  Ismaili and Other Arabic Manuscripts, IB Tauris, 2000. Recent articles include ‘Voices of the Silent Majority: the Transmission of Sunni Learning in Fāṭimid Ismā‘īlī Egypt’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 39 (2012), and ‘A Dream Come-True: Empowerment Through Dreams Reflecting Fāṭimid-Ṣulayḥid Relations’ in O. Ali-de-Unzaga (ed.), Fortresses of the Intellect, Ismaili and other Islamic Studies in Honour of Farhad Daftary, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011.

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About ROM World Art & Culture

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is home to one of the world’s most extensive and eclectic collections of art and other cultural and historical objects. The scale of our collection is enormous, with tens of thousands of artifacts representing the entire sweep of human history. As the product of human invention, the fine arts and design in various media, popular arts, functional objects and the built environment are a direct extension of human thought and experience, shaping and reflecting historical and cultural identities. ROM research examines the complex and fascinating histories of different times and places, and to relate these explorations to our contemporary experience.

ROM World Art & Culture explores millennia of visual arts and material culture.

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