Patricia Blessing Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Princeton University 2012
Patricia Blessing specializes in the art and architecture of the Islamic world, with a focus on the eastern Mediterranean and Iran from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.
Her first book, Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest: Islamic Architecture in the Lands of Rūm, 1240–1330 (Ashgate, 2014; Turkish translation Koç University Press, 2018) investigates the relationship between patronage, politics, and architectural style after the integration of the region into the Mongol empire. In the book, Blessing argues that because patrons under Mongol rule acted largely independently, architecture became increasingly bound to local building practices and styles. She shows how a wider range of patrons emerged, including the members of religious and professional associations. Architecture was thus not a reflection of ethnic, religious, or imperial identities, but rather the result of developments brought about by socio-economic change, the availability of building materials and expertise, as well as patrons’ ability to act without imperial interference.
The complex historiographical issues at stake in that project are at the center of Blessing’s articles on the emergence of Islamic art history as a separate field of study beginning in the late nineteenth century. Initially, the focus of mostly European scholars was classifying Islamic art as Persian, Arab, and Turkish, categories defined in ethnic and racial terms. After World War I, narratives shifted towards the justification of national boundaries and political ideologies of new nation states in the Middle East, based on cultural homogeneity. Deployed by local government officials and scholars alike, these narratives were soon adopted by international researchers even though the earlier framework persisted at least into the 1940s. Examining these issues, Blessing has written on the historiography of medieval Islamic architecture in Turkey, Iran, and Armenia – countries divided by borders and historical events since World War I, but closely connected throughout the Middle Ages.
Blessing is working on her second book, Malleable Monuments: The Material Politics of Ottoman Architecture in the Fifteenth Century, which studies how transregional exchange shaped building practices in the Ottoman Empire. Moving away from a narrative of Ottoman architecture that foregrounds the centralized workshops and imperial style of the sixteenth century, Blessing demonstrates how workers from Anatolia, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Iran and Central Asia participated in Ottoman construction projects. She argues that the innovative use of drawn, scalable models on paper as templates for architectural decoration supplemented collaborations based on the mobility of workers. Throughout the book, Blessing examines a complex engagement with sensory perception that reaches from the built environment onto the page of poetic works. In poems, including ones inscribed onto buildings, architecture’s beauty was praised in cosmological and natural metaphors. Within buildings, the visitor was immersed in spaces decorated with tiles, eliciting wonder at the artifice of their creation, and enveloped in the sounds of water-features and prayers. Closely tied to that aspect of a book project is an interest in multisensory perception has led Blessing to work on the intersection between textiles, architecture, and objects. Blessing has conducted research on the late medieval Iberian Peninsula in order to develop methodological inroads into touch and haptic spaces as concepts that textiles and their imitations in other materials are prone to evoke.
Blessing’s work has been supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the International Center of Medieval Art, the Barakat Trust, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. Before coming to Princeton, she was assistant professor of art history at Pomona College, and H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow with the Society of Architectural Historians. She also taught courses at Stanford University, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Zurich. Blessing is an Associate Editor with the International Journal of Islamic Architecture, a bi-annual publication dedicated to new perspectives in architectural and urban history and design in the Islamic world and within global Muslim diasporas. In 2019, the journal won the Mohamed Makiya Prize (Middle Eastern Architectural Personality of the Year), awarded by Tamayouz Excellence Awards. Blessing serves as the Treasurer of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association.
Blessing’s teaching interests include the multi-sensory experience of spaces and objects; medieval and early modern Islamic architecture; transcultural approaches to medieval art, the politics of urban space in the modern Middle East; heritage preservation and Islamic archaeology; and style as a tool of art historical investigation.
Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest: Islamic Architecture in the Lands of Rūm, 1240-1330, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies 17 (Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishers, 2014). Translated into Turkish as Moğol Fethinden Sonra Anadolu’nun Yeniden İnşası: Rum Diyarında İslami Mimari, 1240-1330 (Istanbul: Koç University Press, 2018).
Patricia Blessing and Rachel Goshgarian, ed. Architecture and Landscape in Medieval Anatolia, 1100-1500 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017).
“Blue-and-White Tiles of the Muradiye in Edirne: Architectural Decoration between Tabriz, Damascus, and Cairo,” Muqarnas 36 (2019): 101-129.
“Weaving on the Wall: Architecture and Textiles in the Monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos,” Studies in Iconography 40 (2019): 137-182.
“The Vessel as Garden: The ‘Alhambra Vases’ and Sensory Perception in Nasrid Architecture,” in: Sensory Reflections: Traces of Experience in Medieval Artifacts, ed. Fiona Griffiths and Kathryn Starkey (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018), 116-141.
“Seljuk Past and Timurid Present: Tile Decoration of the Yeşil Complex in Bursa, Turkey,” Gesta 56, no. 2 (Fall, 2017): 225-250.
“From the Survey of Persian Art to the CIA: Donald N. Wilber and Ilkhanid Architecture in Iran,” in Historiography of Persian Architecture, ed. Mohammad Gharipour (New York and London: Routledge, 2016), 112-146.
“Medieval Monuments from Empire to Nation-State: Beyond Armenian and Islamic Architecture in the South Caucasus (1180-1300),” The Medieval South Caucasus: Artistic Cultures of Albania, Armenia, and Georgia, ed. Ivan Foletti and Erik Thunø, Convivium: Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean, Seminarium Kondakovianum (Supplementum 2016): 52-69.
“Friedrich Sarre and the Discovery of Seljuk Anatolia,” Journal of Art Historiography 11 (December, 2014): 1-20.