The digital exhibition The Umayyads claims that the Umayyad period in Islamic history was one that employed many different motifs and decorative styles from a variety of different places. On the front page of the exhibition the curators say, “Umayyad art is a combination of decorative styles of motifs drawn from different artistic traditions.” While I do think the educational aspect of the digital exhibition was rather informative for someone that knows nothing about the Umayyads and very little about Islamic art and architecture, I do think the examples that they used throughout the exhibition were lacking in diversity. Additionally, the digital layout of the website does not aid in the supposed message that the curators are trying to sell– that it is the art and architecture from this time period that is unique.
Structured around five major categories, Administrative Reforms, Official Patronage, The Formation of Islamic Art, Christian Subjects under Umayyad Rule and Court Ceremonials and Pastimes, the digital exhibition seems to cover a variety of topics. On each subsequent page there is a description that goes into depth on the main topic of that section. These descriptions were what I found to be most informative in the exhibition. Yet, as you look at the layout of the page, miniscule thumbnails are the only indication that there are multiple works of art to be looked at on each page. Upon first glance, I didn’t even notice that there were multiple images that I could click on. The text takes up a much higher percentage of the page and does not specifically focus on describing the art and architecture– it more describes the cultural history of the Umayyads.
Other than the visual layout of the exhibition, the objects or buildings that were chosen to represent the Umayyads do not seem particularly diverse. The second page in the Administrative Reforms section includes five images, all of which are different coins. And the next page only two images are shown, both of which are also coins. This does not show a diverse range of objects or styles because most of the coins show writing, such as Coin from the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome, or abstracted figures and faces, such as the coin from the Jordan National Bank Numismatic Museum in Jordan.
The section on Official Patronage discusses many of the most important mosques from the Umayyads and includes images of all of them. While this part of the exhibition does bring up important information about these mosques, there is still a significant drawback in the fact that none of the “motifs” from the “different artistic traditions” are specifically addressed. Basic images of the mosques, such as The Dome of the Rock, are included but nothing is said about the different techniques that were employed such as tilework, mosaics, or the use of marble columns. There is not even a close enough picture to see what the details in the mosque actually are. It would have been much more powerful if the curators focused on one mosque for each page and had the different images show close-ups of motifs and architectural features that were diverse while explaining where the individual influences came from.
I can’t be too harsh, however, on the curators because they do go more into depth about the different stylistic traditions in the section entitled The Formation of Islamic Art. I wish that they had used as diverse a range of objects in all of the other sections, not just the Formation section.