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D. Fairchild Ruggles
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL 61801-3620)

Research Programs

[Grant products][Media coverage]

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2018 – 12/31/2018

Tree of Pearls: The Extraordinary Architectural Patronage of the 13th-Century Egyptian Slave-Queen Shajar al-Durr

Preparation of a book-length study on the influential architectural patronage of the Mamluk queen Shajar al-Durr in mid-13th-century Cairo.

“Tree of Pearls” was a slave of obscure origins who rose to become queen-sultan of Egypt in 1250. For architectural history, her patronage was innovative because of the tombs that she added to her husband’s madrasa (college) and her own, thereby making those institutions into commemorative monuments. Thus, for the first time in Cairo, the architectural ensemble was empowered to stand for the founder himself, visibly and unforgettably manifest in the tomb’s high dome rising above the urban skyline. This dramatic transformation--in which architecture embodied human identity--was made possible by a woman whose path-breaking patronage contradicts the prevailing assumption among historians of Islam that Muslim women have historically lacked power and that there was no distinctive female agency in Islamic art and architecture. My book argues that our ability to see their consequence depends entirely on how their story is told.