Matthew (Matt) Saba is Visual Resources Librarian for Islamic Architecture at the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT. As Visual Resources Librarian, Matt is responsible for researching, digitizing, and cataloging the collections, as well as facilitating reproduction of AKDC materials for educational and scholarly purposes.
Before joining the AKDC, Matt studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Art History at the University of Chicago where he wrote a dissertation examining the palaces of the Abbasid caliphs in Iraq. He has also worked as a curatorial fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and taught courses in Islamic art and architecture at The University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Marymount Manhattan College. His research interests include imperial building practices in late antiquity and early Islam as well as the history of Islamic art as a discipline. As a librarian he is involved in projects to create more robust and representative metadata schema for describing cultural heritage from the Middle East and Muslim world more broadly.
Saba, Matthew D. "A Restricted Gaze: The Ornament of the Main Caliphal Palace of Samarra."Muqarnas: An Annual On The Visual Cultures Of The Islamic World 32 (2015): 155-95.
This essay examines the architectural ornament of Samarra’s Main Caliphal Palace, also known as the Dar al-Khilafa, in light of the context in which it was seen. First, it offers a partial reconstruction of the architectural ornament in one section of the palace, its Audience Hall Complex, based on unpublished documentation from the archive of Ernst Herzfeld, who excavated the site in 1912–13. In the second part, Herzfeld’s findings are interpreted in light of the function of the space as the locus of official audiences at the Abbasid Court. The analysis suggests that in certain portions of Samarra’s Main Caliphal Palace ornament was carefully planned in conjunction with its architectural frame and can even be seen to further the ideological aims of the palace’s patrons. By encouraging the viewer to glance but remaining partly to completely hidden from sight from most palace guests, the decorations of the Audience Hall Complex reinforce the sense of hierarchy and restricted access that informed the way Abbasid caliphs were presented to the public.