Islamic art encompasses the arts produced from the 7th century onwards by people (not necessarily Muslim) who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations. It includes fields as varied as Architecture, Calligraphy, painting, and ceramics, among others.
Typically, though not entirely, Islamic art has focused on the depiction of patterns and Arabic calligraphy, rather than on figures, because it is feared by many Muslims that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and thereby a sin against Allah, forbidden in the Qur'an.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History of Islamic art
- 2.1 The Beginnings of Islamic art
- 2.2 The medieval period (9th-15th centuries)
- 2.3 The Three Empires
- 2.4 Painting gallery
- 3 Notes
- 4 References
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
Islamic art is not, speaking, an art pertaining to religion only. The term "Islamic" refers not only to the religion, but to the rich and varied Islamic culture as well. Islamic art frequently adopts secular elements and elements that are frowned upon, if not forbidden, by some Islamic theologians.
According to the Encarta "Islamic art is developed from many sources: Roman, Early Christian, and Byzantine styles were taken over in early Islamic architecture; the influence of Sassanian art—the architecture and decorative art of pre-Islamic Persia was of paramount significance; Central Asian styles were brought in with various nomadic incursions; and Chinese influences had an important effect on Islamic painting, pottery, and textiles."
There are repeating elements in Islamic art, such as the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs in a repetition known as the Arabesque. The arabesque in Islamic art is often used to symbolize the transcendent, indivisible and infinite nature of Allah.
Most Sunni and Shia Muslims believe that visual depictions of any living beings generally should be prohibited. Nonetheless, human portrayals can be found in all eras of Islamic art. Human representation for the purpose of worship is considered idolatry and is duly forbidden in Islamic law, known as Sharia law. There are also many Depictions of Muhammad, Islam's chief prophet, in historical Islamic art.
Perhaps the most important expression of Islamic art is architecture, particularly that of the mosque (four-iwan and hypostyle). Through the edifices, the effect of varying cultures within Islamic civilization can be illustrated. The North African and Spanish Islamic architecture, for example, has Roman-Byzantine elements, as seen in the Alhambra palace at Granada, or in the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Domes have been used in Islamic architecture for centuries. The earliest surviving dome is part of the Dome of the Rock mosque, built in 691 CE. Another prominent dome was added to the Taj Mahal, constructed in the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. And as late as the 19th century, Islamic domes were incorporated into Western architecture.
Calligraphic design is omnipresent in Islamic art, and is usually expressed in a mix of Qur'anic verses and historical proclamations. Two of the main scripts involved are the symbolic kufic and naskh scripts, which can be found adorning and enhancing the visual appeal of the walls and domes of buildings, the sides of minbars, and so on. All Arabian fantasy tales were often called "Arabian Nights" when translated into English, regardless of whether they appeared in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in any version, and a number of tales are known in Europe as "Arabian Nights" despite existing in no Arabic manuscript. Many imitations were written, especially in France.
Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.
A famous example of Arabic poetry and Persian poetry on romance (love) is Layla and Majnun, dating back to the Umayyad era in the 7th century. It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet, which was itself said to have been inspired by a Latin version of Layli and Majnun to an extent.
Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first fictional Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a fictional novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a Desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known Coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel.
A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail's work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English. Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist. The story also anticipated Rousseau's Emile: or, On Education in some ways, and is also similar to Mowgli's story in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book as well as Tarzan's story, in that a baby is abandoned but taken care of and fed by a mother wolf.
Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, considered the greatest epic of Italian literature, derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before as Liber Scale Machometi, "The Book of Muhammad's Ladder") concerning Muhammad's ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi. The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele's The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus, and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish Delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century.
Wrote the anthem of the Soviet Union.
No Islamic artistic concept has become better known outside its original home than the pile carpet, more commonly referred to as the Oriental carpet (oriental rug). Their versatility is utilized in everyday Islamic and Muslim life, from floor coverings to architectural enrichment, from cushions to bolsters to bags and sacks of all shapes and sizes, and to religious objects (such as a prayer rug, which would provide a clean place to pray). Carpet weaving is a rich and deeply embedded tradition in Islamic societies, and the practice is seen in cities as well as in rural communities and nomadic encampments. In older times, special establishments and workshops were in existence that functioned directly under court patronage in Islamic lands.
From the eighth to eighteenth centuries, the use of ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery. Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another significant contribution was the development of stonepaste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq. The first industrial complex for glass and pottery production was built in Ar-Raqqah, Syria, in the 8th century. Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Islamic world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).
Lustreware was invented in Iraq by the persian chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) in the 8th century during the Abbasid Caliphate. Another innovation was the Albarello, a type of maiolica earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East. Brought to Italy by Hispano-Moresque traders, the earliest Italian examples were produced in Florence in the 15th century.
The Hispano-Moresque style emerged in Andalusia in the 8th century, under the Fatimids. This was a style of Islamic pottery created in Islamic Spain, after the Moors had introduced two ceramics techniques to Europe: ceramics with an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of it decoration.
In the performing arts, the most popular forms of theater in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval Adab (behavior) literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'zieh theater.
Karagoz, the Turkish Shadow Theatre has influenced puppetry widely in the region. It is thought to have passed from Chinese by way of India. Later it was taken by the Mongols from the Chinese and transmitted to the Turkish peoples of Central Asia. Thus the art of Shadow Theater was brought to Anatolia by the Turkish people emigrating from Central Asia. Other scholars claim that shadow theater came to Anatolia in the 16th century from Egypt. The advocates of this view claim that when Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt in 1517, he saw shadow theatre performed during a party put on in his honour. Yavuz Sultan Selim was so impressed with it that he took the puppeteer back to his palace in Istanbul. There his 21 year old son, later Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, developed an interest in the plays and watched them a great deal. Thus shadow theatre found its way into the Ottoman palaces.
In other areas the style of shadow puppetry known as khayal al-zill – an intentionally metaphorical term whose meaning is best translated as ‘shadows of the imagination’ or ‘shadow of fancy' survives. This is a shadow play with live music ..”the accompaniment of drums, tambourines and flutes...also...“special effects” – smoke, fire, thunder, rattles, squeaks, thumps, and whatever else might elicit a laugh or a shudder from his audience”
In Iran puppets are known to have existed much earlier than 1000 CE, but initially only glove and string puppets were popular in Iran. Other genres of puppetry emerged during the Qajar era (18th-19th century BCE) as influences from Turkey spead to the region. Kheimeh Shab-Bazi is a Persian traditional puppet show which is performed in a small chamber by a musical performer and a storyteller called a morshed or naghal. These shows often take place alongside storytelling in traditional tea and coffee-houses (Ghahve-Khave). The dialogue takes place between the morshed and the puppets. Puppetry remains very popular in Iran, the touring opera Rostam and Sohrab puppet opera being a recent example.
From the eighth to the eighteenth centuries, the use of ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of pottery. Although the art of sculpture was hardly practiced at all, work in metal and ivory was often developed to a high degree of technical accomplishment. It is also necessary to mention the importance of painting, and particularly of the illumination of both sacred and secular texts.
History of Islamic art
The Beginnings of Islamic art
Before the Dynasties
The period of rapid expansion of the Islamic era forms a reasonably accurate beginning for the label of Islamic art. Early geographical boundaries of the Islamic culture were in present-day Syria. It is quite difficult to distinguish the earliest Islamic objects from their predecessors in Persian or Sassanid art and Byzantine. There was, notably, a significant production of unglazed ceramics, witnessed by a famous small bowl preserved in the Louvre, whose inscription assures its attribution to the Islamic period. Vegetal motifs were the most important these early productions.
Influences from the Sassanian artistic tradition include the image of the king as a warrior and the lion as a symbol of nobility and virility. The Bedouin tribal tradition represented the geographically "native" artistic hegemony.
Byzantine influence from the Christian west was not received without reluctance. Coinage and metalwork were imported and used for trade with the Byzantines.
Religious and civic architecture were developed under the Umayyads, when new concepts and new plans were put into practice. Thus, the “Arab plan,” with court and hypostyle prayer hall, truly became a functional type with the construction of the Umayyad Mosque, or the Great Mosque of Damascus (completed in 715 by caliph Al-Walid I) on top of the ancient temple of Jupiter and in place of the basilica of St. John the Baptist, the most sacred site in the city. This building served as a point of reference for builders (and for art historians) for the birth of the Arab plan, as Byzantine Christian.
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is one of the most important buildings in all of Islamic architecture, marked by a strong Byzantine influence (mosaic against a gold background, and a central plan that recalls that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), but already bearing purely Islamic elements, such as the great epigraphic frieze. The desert palaces in Jordan and Syria (for example, Mshatta, Qasr Amra, and Khirbat al-Mafjar) served the caliphs as living quarters, reception halls, and baths, and were decorated to promote an image of royal luxury.
Work in ceramic was still somewhat primitive (unglazed) during this period. Some metal objects have survived from this time, but it remains rather difficult to distinguish these objects from those of the pre-Islamic period.
'Abd al-Malik introduced standard coinage that featured Arabic inscriptions. The quick development of a localized coinage around the time of the Dome of the Rock's construction demonstrates the reorientation of Umayyad acculturation. This period saw the genesis of a particularly Islamic art.
In this period, Umayyad artists and artisans did not invent a new vocabulary, but began to prefer those received from Mediterranean and Iranian late antiquity, which they adapted to their own artistic conceptions. For example, the mosaics in the Great Mosque of Damascus are based on Byzantine models, but replace the figurative elements with images of trees and cities. The desert palaces also bear witness to these influences. By combining the various traditions that they had inherited, and by readapting motifs and architectural elements, artists created little by little a typically Muslim art, particularly discernible in the aesthetic of the Arabesque, which appears both on monuments and in illuminated Qur'ān.
The Abbasid (750 A.D.- 1258) witnessed the movement of the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, and then from Baghdad to Samarra. The shift to Baghdad influenced politics, culture, and art. Art historian Robert Hillenbrand (1999) likens the movement to the foundation of an "Islamic Rome", because the meeting of Eastern influences from Iranian, Eurasian steppe, Chinese, and Indian sources created a new paradigm for Islamic art. Classical forms inherited from Byzantine Europe and Greco-Roman sources were discarded in favor of those drawn from the new Islamic hub. Even the design of the city of Baghdad placed it in the "navel of the world," as 9th-century historian al-Ya'qubi wrote.
The ancient city of Baghdad cannot be excavated, as it lies beneath the modern city. However, Samarra has been well studied, and is known for its extensive cultivation of the art of stucco. Motifs known from the stucco at Samarra permit the dating of structures built elsewhere, and are furthermore found on portable objects, particular in wood, from Egypt through to Iran.
Abbasid architecture in Iraq as exemplified in the palace of Ukhaidir (c.775-6) demonstrated the "despotic and the pleasure-loving character of the dynasty" in its grand size but cramped living quarters.
Samarra witnessed the "coming of age" of Islamic art. Polychrome painted stucco allowed for experimentation in new styles of moulding and carving. The Great Mosque of Samarra, once the largest in the world, was built for the new capital.
Other major mosques built in the Abbasid Dynasty include the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Abu Dalaf in Iraq, the great mosque in Tunis, and the great mosque in Kairouan.
The Abbasid period also coincided with two major innovations in the ceramic arts: the invention of faience, and of metallic lusterware. Hadithic prohibition of the use of golden or silver pottery led to the development of metallic lusterware, which was made by mixing sulphur and metallic oxides to ochre and vinegar, painted onto an already glazed vessel and then fired a second time. It was expensive, and difficult to manage the second round through the kiln, but the need to replace fine Chinese pottery led to the development of this technique..
Though the common perception of Abbasid artistic production focuses largely on pottery, the greatest development of the Abbasid period was in textiles. Government-run workshops known as tiraz produced silks bearing the name of the monarch, allowing for aristocrats to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruler. Other silks were pictorial. The utility of silk-ware in wall decor, entrance adornment, and room separation were not as important as their cash value along the "silk route."
Calligraphy began to be used in surface decoration on pottery during this period. Illuminated Qur'ans gained attention, letter-forms now more complex and stylized to the point of slowing down the recognition of the words themselves.
The medieval period (9th-15th centuries)
Beginning in the 9th century, Abbasid sovereignty was contested in the provinces furthest removed from the Iraqi center. The creation of a Shi'a dynasty, that of the north African Fatimids, followed by the Umayyads in Spain, gave force to this opposition, as well as small dynasties and autonomous governors in Iran.
Spain and the Maghreb
The first Islamic dynasty to establish itself in Spain (or Islamic Spain) was that of the Spanish Umayyads. As their name indicates, they were descended from the great Umayyads of Syria. After their fall, the Spanish Umayyads were replaced by various autonomous kingdoms, the taifas (1031-91), but the artistic production from this period does not differ significantly from that of the Umayyads. At the end of the 11th centuy, two Berber tribes, the Almoravids and the Almohads, captured the head of the Maghreb and Spain, successively, bringing Magrhebi influences into art. A series of military victories by Christian monarchs had reduced Islamic Spain by the end of the 14th century to the city of Granada, ruled by the Nasirid dynasty, who managed to maintain their hold until 1492.
al-Andalus was a great cultural center of the Middle Ages. Besides the great universities, which taught philosophies and sciences yet unknown in Christendom (such as those of Averroes), the territory was an equally vital center for art. One thinks immediately, in architecture, of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, but other, smaller, monuments should not be forgotten, such as the Bab Mardum in Toledo, or the caliphal city of Medina Azahara. In the later period one finds notably the palace of the Alhambra, in Granada.
Many techniques were employed in the manufacture of objects. Ivory was used extensively for the manufacture of boxes and caskets. The pyxis of al-Mughira is a masterwork of the genre. In metalwork, large sculptures in the round, normally rather scarce in the Islamic world, served as elaborate receptacles for water or as fountain spouts. A great number of textiles, most notably silks, were exported: many are found in the church treasuries of Christendom, where they served as covering for saints’ ossuaries. From the periods of Maghrebi rule one may also note a taste for painted and sculpted woodwork.
The art of north Africa is not as well studied. The Almoravid and Almohad dynasties are characterized by a tendency toward austerity, for example in mosques with bare walls. Nevertheless, luxury arts continued to be produced in great quantity. The Marinid and Hafsid dynasties developed an important, but poorly understood, architecture, and a significant amount of painted and sculpted woodwork.
Egypt and Syria
The Fatimid dynasty, which reigned in Egypt between 909 and 1171, was
At the same time in Syria, the Atabegs (Arab governors of Seljuq princes) assumed power. Quite independent, they capitalized on conflicts between the Turkish princes, and in large part supported the installation of the Frankish crusaders. In 1171, Saladin seized Fatimid Egypt, and installed the transitory Ayyubid dynasty on the throne. This period is not terribly notable for architecture, but the production of luxury objects continued apace. Ceramics and metalwork of a high quality were produced without interruption, and enameled glass became another important craft.
In 1250 the Mamluks seized control of Egypt from the Ayyubids, and by 1261 had managed to assert themselves in Syria as well. The Mamluks were not, strictly speaking, a dynasty, as they did not maintain a patrilineal mode of succession; in fact, Mamluks were freed Turkish slaves, who (in theory) passed the power to others of like station. This mode of government persevered for three centuries, until 1517, and gave rise to abundant architectural projects (many thousands of buildings were constructed during this period), while patronage of luxury arts favored primarily enameled glass and metalwork. The Baptistery of Saint Louis, one of the most famous Islamic objects, dates to this period.
Iran and Central Asia
In Iran and the north of India, the Tahirids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, and Ghurids struggled for power in the 10th century, and art was a vital element of this competition. Great cities were built, such as Nishapur and Ghazni, and the construction of the Great Mosque of Isfahan (which would continue, in fits and starts, over several centuries) was initiated. Funerary architecture was also cultivated, while potters developed quite individual styles: kaleidoscopic ornament on a yellow ground; or marbled decorations created by allowing colored glazes to run; or painting with multiple layers of slip under the glaze.
The Seljuqs, nomads of Turkic origin from present-day Mongolia, appeared on the stage of Islamic history toward the end of the 10th century. They seized Baghdad in 1048, before dying out in 1194 in Iran, although the production of “Seljuq” works continued through the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century under the auspices of smaller, independent sovereigns and patrons. During their time, the center of culture, politics and art production shifted from Damascus and Baghdad to Merv, Nishapur, Rayy, and Isfahan, all in Iran .
Popular patronage expanded because of a growing economy and new urban wealth. Inscriptions in architecture tended to focus more on the patrons of the piece. For example, sultans, viziers or lower ranking officials would receive often mention in inscriptions on mosques. Meanwhile, growth in mass market production and sale of art made it more commonplace and accessible to merchants and professionals . Because of increased production, many relics have survived from the Seljuk era and can be easily dated. In contrast, the dating of earlier works is more ambiguous. It is, therefore, easy to mistake Seljuk art as new developments rather than inheritance from classical Iranian and Turkic sources.
Under the Seljuqs the “Iranian plan” of mosque construction appears for the first time. Lodging places called khans, or Caravanserai, for travellers and their animals, or caravansarais, generally displayed utilitarian rather than ornamental architecture, with rubble masonry, strong fortifications, and minimal comfort . Another important architectural trend to arise in the Seljuk era is the development of mausolea including the tomb tower such as the Gunbad-i-qabus (circa 1006-7) (showcasing a Zoroastrian motif) and the domed square, an example of which is the tomb of the Samanids in the city of Bukhara (circa 943) .
Innovations in the ceramic arts that date to this period include the production of minai ware and the manufacture of vessels, not out of clay, but out of a silicon paste (“frit-ware”), while metalworkers began to encrust bronze with precious metals. Across the Seljuk era, from Iran to Iraq, a unification of book painting can be seen. These paintings have animalistic figures that convey strong symbolic meaning of fidelity, treachery, and courage .
In the 13th century the Mongols, under the leadership of Genghis Khan, swept through the Islamic world. Upon the death of Genghis Khan, his empire was divided among his sons and many dynasties were thus formed: the Yuan in China, the Ilkhanids in Iran, and the Golden Horde in northern Iran and southern Russia.
A rich civilization developed under these “little khans,” who were originally subservient to the Yuan emperor, but rapidly became independent. Architectural activity intensified as the Mongols became sedentary, and retained traces of their nomadic origins, such as the north-south orientation of the buildings. At the same time a process of “iranisation” took place, and construction according to previously established types, such as the “Iranian plan” mosques, was resumed. The tomb of Öljeitü in Soltaniyeh is one of the greatest and most impressive monuments in Iran, despite many later depredations. The art of the Persian book was also born under this dynasty, and was encouraged by aristocratic patronage of large manuscripts such as the Jami al-tawarikh by Rashid al-Din. New techniques in ceramics appeared, such as the lajvardina (a variation on luster-ware), and Chinese influence is perceptible in all arts.
The Golden Horde and the Timurids
The early arts of the nomads of the Golden Horde are poorly understood. Research is only beginning, and evidence for town planning and architecture has been discovered. There was also a significant production of works in gold, which often show a strong Chinese influence. Much of this work is preserved today in the Hermitage.
The beginning of the third great period of medieval Iranian art, that of the Timurids , was marked by the invasion of a third group of nomads, under the direction of Timur. During the 15th century this dynasty gave rise to a golden age in Persian manuscript painting, including renowned painters such as Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād, but also a multitude of workshops and patrons. Iranian architecture and city planning also reached an apogee, in particular with the monuments of Samarkand, and are marked by extensive use of exterior ceramic tiles and muqarnas vaulting within.
Syria, Iraq, and Anatolia
The Seljuq Turks pushed beyond Iran into Anatolia, winning a victory over the Byzantine in the Battle of Manzikert (1071), and setting up a sultanate independent of the Iranian branch of the dynasty. Their power seems largely to have waned following the Mongol invasions in 1243, but coins were struck under their name until 1304. Architecture and objects synthesized various styles, both Iranian and Syrian, sometimes rendering precise attributions difficult. The art of woodworking was cultivated, and at least one illustrated manuscript dates to this period.
Caravanserais dotted the major trade routes across the region, placed at intervals of a day's travel. The construction of these caravanserai inns improved in scale, fortification, and replicability. Also, they began to contain central mosques.
The Turkmen, nomads who settled in the area of Lake Van, were responsible for a number of mosques, such as the Blue Mosque in Tabriz, and they had a decisive influence after the fall of the Anatolian Seljuqs. Starting in the 13th century, Anatolia was dominated by small Turkmen dynasties, which progressively chipped away at Byzantine territory. Little by little a major dynasty emerged, that of the Ottomans, who, after 1450, are referred to as the “first Ottomans.” Patronage was exercised primarilyso be seen as the forerunners of Ottoman art, in particular the “Milet” ceramics and the first blue-and-white Anatolian works.
Islamic book painting witnessed its first golden age in the thirteenth century, mostly from Syria and Iraq. Influence from Byzantine visual vocabulary (blue and gold coloring, angelic and victorious motifs, symbology of drapery) combined with Mongoloid facial types in 12th-century book frontispieces.
Earlier coinage necessarily featured Arabic epigraphs, but as Ayyubid society became more cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic, coinage began to feature astrological, figural (featuring a variety of Greek, Seleucid, Byzantine, Sasanian, and comtemporary Turkish rulers' busts), and animal images.
Hillenbrand suggests that the medieval Islamic texts called Maqamat, copied and illustrated by Yahya b. Mahmud al-Wasiti were some of the earliest "Coffee table books." They were among the first texts to hold up a mirror to daily life in Islamic art, portraying humorous stories and showing little to no inheritance of pictorial tradition.
India, conquered by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids in the 9th century, did not become autonomous until 1206, when the Muizzi, or slave-kings, seized power, marking the birth of the Delhi Sultanate. Later other competing sultanates were founded in Bengal, Kashmir, Gujarat, Jaunpur, Malwa, and in the north Deccan (the Bahmanids). They separated themselves little by little from Persian traditions, giving birth to an original approach to architecture and urbanism, marked in particular by interaction with Hindu art. Study of the production of objects has hardly begun, but a lively art of manuscript illumination is known. The period of the sultanates ended with the arrival of the Mughals, who progressively seized their territories. The Taj Mahal was ordered to be built by Shah Jahan, a Muslim king.
The Three Empires
The Ottoman Empire, whose origins lie in the 14th century, continued in existence until shortly after World War I. This impressive longevity, combined with an immense territory (stretching from Anatolia to Tunisia), led naturally to a vital and distinctive art, including plentiful architecture, mass production of ceramics (most notably Iznik ware), an important jeweler’s art, Turkish paper marbling Ebru, Turkish carpets as well as tapestries and an exceptional art of manuscript illumination, with multiple influences
The standard plan of Ottoman architecture was inspired in part by the example of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople/Istanbul, Ilkhanid works like Oljeitu Tomb and earlier Seljuks of Rum and Anatolian Beylik monumental buildings and their own original innovations. The most famous of Ottoman architects was (and remains) Sinan, who lived for approximately one hundred years and designed several hundreds of buildings, of which two of the more important are Süleymaniye Camii in Istanbul and Selimiye Camii in Edirne. Apprentaces of Sinan later built the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the Taj Mahal in India.
Masterpieces of Ottoman manuscript illumination include the two “books of festivals,” one dating from the end of the 16th century, and the other from the era of Sultan Murad III. These books contain numerous illustrations and exhibit a strong Safavid influence; thus they may have been inspired by books captured in the course of the Ottoman-Safavid wars of the 16th century.
The Ottomans are also known for their development of a bright red pigment, “Iznik red,” in ceramics.
The Mughal reign in India lasted from 1526 until 1828, when the English seized the country and created their protectorate. Architecture was accorded a place of honor within Mughal art, with the development of a distinctive plan and the creation of the Taj Mahal. The arts of jewelry and the carving of hard stones, such as jade, were also cultivated; the series of hard stone daggers in the form of horses’ heads is particularly impressive.
The Mughals also gave rise to a magnificent art of manuscript illumination, in which a strong European influence may be perceived, both through the utilization of perspective and the use of European engravings as models. Nevertheless a strong Persian influence remains, as Persian painters founded the Mughal art of the book under the reign of Humayun. This latter had taken refuge among the Safavids after being temporarily dethroned, and upon his return brought with him certain Persian painters. The influence of Hindu art may also be perceived, particularly in provincial production (the so-called “sub-imperial” paintings).
Also of note is the invention of “bidri,” a technique of metalwork in which silver motifs are set against a black background.
Safavids and Qajars
The Iranian Safavids, a dynasty stretching from 1501 to 1786, is distinguished from the Mughal and Ottoman Empires in part through the Shi'a faith of its shahs. Ceramic arts are marked by the strong influence of Chinese porcelain, executed in blue and white. Architecture flourished, attaining a high point with the building program of Shah Abbas in Isfahan, which included numerous gardens, palaces (such as Ali), an immense bazaar, and a large imperial mosque.
The art of manuscript illumination also achieved new heights, in particular in the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh, an immense copy of Ferdowsi’s poem containing more than 250 paintings. In the 17th century a new type of painting develops, based around the album (muhaqqa). The albums were the creations of conoisseurs who bound together single sheets containing paintings, drawings, or calligraphy by various artists, sometimes excised from earlier books, and other times created as independent works. The paintings of Reza Abbasi figure largely in this new art of the book.
After the fall of the Safavids, the Qajars, a Turkmen tribe established from centuries on the banks of the Caspian Sea, assumed power. Qajar art displays an increasing European influence, as in the large oil paintings portraying the Qajar shahs. Steelwork also assumed a new importance. Like the Ottomans, the Qajar dynasty survived until the First World War.
Books and journals
- Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture, Thames & Hudson World of Art series; 1999, London. ISBN 978050020305.
- Christian art
- Islamic pottery
- Iranian art
- Persian miniature
- Festival of Muslim Cultures
- Visual Dhikr
- Museum With No Frontiers: extensive site on Islamic art
- ArchNet: extensive site on Islamic architecture
- Muslim Heritage
- CalligraphyIslamic: Extensive site on Islamic Visual Art
- Art of Islamic: Examples of Great Islamic Artwork Throughout History
- BBC Four documentary on art in Islamic Spain
- Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Victoria and Albert Museum at the National Gallery of Art, Washington
- Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World Selections from the Permanent Collection at the National Gallery of Art
- Islamic Art Network - Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation
- Islamic Art Review
- What is Islamic Art? an article by Lucien de Guise
- Art and architecture module at NITLE
- Islamic Art in India