Islamic Art and Architecture


Islamic Art and Architecture represents one of the RBSC library's major collection strengths. In geographical coverage, the library's book holdings span the Islamic world from Spain through North Africa and the Middle East to Iran and India, with a limited selection of works on the arts of Southeast Asia. Holdings are the strongest for Egypt, and works on architecture form the largest portion of the collection. There is extensive material on Cairo and the architectural conservation of its monuments, such as the bulletins of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe. In addition to architecture, decorative and applied arts like painting, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and woodwork are also documented.

The library acquires current texts in the field, but the highlights of the collection are rare books acquired from collectors like K.A.C. Creswell, whose personal library forms the core around which holdings in the discipline have been built. Creswell's library contains an exceptional selection of works, including books by pioneers in the field like Ernst Herzfeld, Max van Berchem, and Creswell himself. Most texts on architecture, like those of the nineteenth-century French scholar Prisse d'Avennes, are illustrated with drawings, photographs (for items of a later date), and ground plans for monuments. Books on the arts are similarly illustrated, some with exquisite color depictions of artistic motifs, like Owen Jones' 1856 The Grammar of Ornament

Works of scholarship are supplemented by histories and contemporary descriptions and travel accounts, which typically feature illustrations of Islamic monuments and their context. Foremost among these are the Description de l'Egypte produced by the scholars of Napoleon's 1798 - 1801 expedition and the volumes of prints by David Roberts. Studies on the architecture of the ancient Mediterranean world and Near East are also available.

An extensive selection of photographic resources is also useful to the study of Islamic art and architecture. The K.A.C. Creswell Photograph Collection of Islamic Architecture is a valuable source for the study of Islamic monuments from Spain to Iraq, featuring almost 10,000 prints and glass slides produced and collected by Creswell during the early and mid-twentieth century. The library's other photographic holdings, including several thousand nineteenth and early twentieth-century prints, also depict Islamic architecture in Egypt and the Middle East. There is also a slide collection available. Many of these resources have been digitized, available in the Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library.

In addition to photographs, the library possesses a variety of archival materials related to Islamic Art and Architecture. The library holds the personal papers of leading scholars in the field of Islamic art and architecture like Creswell (featuring writings and other textual items), Christel Kessler (including ground plans of medieval buildings in Cairo), and George Scanlon. The archive for Salah Lamei’s (1935- ) Centre for Conservation and Preservation of Islamic Architectural Heritage (1984 - 2016) documents its restoration activities throughout Egypt and the Middle East. Maps for historic sections of Cairo showing the location of monuments are also available. Other resources include periodicals, offprints, and theses completed by students in AUC's program in Islamic art and architecture. 

The Rare Books and Special Collections Library has subject specialists in Islamic Art and Architecture who can provide service to researchers in using these materials, as can Research Services Desk staff located on the third floor of the library; see Contact Us and Doing Research at the RBSCL for details. Consult theLibrary Catalog for searching for such materials, and selected holdings are available online in the Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library.