- 14 Sep 2020
History of Islamic Art
Main Elements Of Islamic Art
Islamic Art developed and integrated Arab, Turkish and Persian traditions brought together in all parts of the Muslim/Moslem Empire.
The Arab element was important in contributing to the language of the Holy Qur'an (Koran) and the Arabic form of writing. This became the most important single feature of all Islamic Art leading to the development of an infinite variety of abstract ornament and an entire system of linear abstraction. The Arabs were deeply interested in mathematics and astronomy. They applied this knowledge of geometric principles and an innate sense of rhythm (which also characterizes their poetry and music) to the formulation of the complex repeat patterns seen in all Islamic decoration.
The Turkish element in Islamic Art consists of an indigenous concept of abstraction that the Turkish peoples of Central Asia applied to any culture and art form that they met with on their long journey from 'Innermost Asia' to Egypt. They brought an important tradition of both figurative and non-figurative design from Eastern to Western Asia, creating an unmistakable Turkish iconography. The importance of the Turkish/Ottoman element in Islamic culture can perhaps best be appreciated if one realises that the larger part of the Islamic World was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the 10th to the 19th century. The Art of the Islamic World owes a great deal to the rule of these Turkish Dynasties, and the influence of Turkish thought, taste and tradition on the Art of Islam in general can hardly be overestimated.
The Persian element in Islamic Art is perhaps most difficult to define; it seems to consist of a peculiarly lyrical poetical attitude, a metaphysical tendency which in the realm of emotional and religious experience leads to an extraordinary flowering of mysticism. The major schools of Muslim painting developed in Iran on the basis of Persian literature. Not only an entire iconography but also a specific imaginary, abstract-poetical in it's realisation, was created in Iran in the later part of the 14th and 15th century, that is without parallel in any other part of the Muslim/Moslem World. The same attitude that creates in the field of painting an art form of the greatest beauty but of complete fantasy and unreality enters into architecture, creating forms of decoration that seem to negate the very nature of architecture and the basic principles of weight and stress, of relief and support, fusing all elements into a unity of fantastic unreality, a floating world of imagination.
Even though these three elements of Islamic culture are at times clearly definable and separate and each contributes more or less equally to the development of Islamic Art, in most periods they are so closely interwoven and integrated that one cannot often clearly distinguish between them.
Influence of the Religion of Islam on Islamic Art
Of all elements in Islamic Art the most important, undoubtedly, is religion. The multitude of small empires and kingdoms that had adopted Islam all knew, spoke and wrote some Arabic, the language of the Koran (Qur'an). They all assembled in the Mosque the religious building that, with minor alternations, was of the same design throughout the Muslim World, and they all faced Mecca, the centre of Islam, symbolised by the Holy Kaaba (Quabba), In every prayer hall there was a focal or Kibla wall, which faced Mecca with a central niche, the Mihrab. All Muslims share the basic belief in Prophet Muhammad's (PBAH) message: the recognisation of the all-embracing power and absolute superiority of The One God (Allah). The creed of all Muslims reads alike; "There is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is his Prophet." In all Muslims of every race and country there is the same feeling of being equal in the face of Allah on the day of judgement.
The Infinite Pattern in Islamic Art
The experience of the infinite on the one hand, with the worthlessness of the transient earthly existence of man on the other is known to all Muslims and forms part of all Muslim Art. The infinite continuation of a given pattern, whether abstract, semi-abstract or even partly figurative, is on the one hand the expression of a profound belief in the eternity of all true being and on the other a disregard for temporary existence.
An Arabesque design, based on an infinite leaf-scroll pattern (stem, leaf and blossom) generates new variations of the same original elements, is in itself the perfect application of the principle of Islam design and can be applied to any given surface, the cover of a small metal box or the glazed curve of a monumental dome such as a Mosque. Both the small box and the huge dome of a Mosque are regarded in the same.
Two important elements in Islamic decorative art are: Floral Patterns and Calligraphy.
Floral Patterns in Islamic Decoration:
Islamic artists habitually employed flowers and trees as decorative motifs for the embellishment of cloth, objects, personal items and buildings. Their designs were inspired by international as well as local techniques. For instance, Mughal architectural decoration was inspired by European botanical artists, as well as by traditional Persian and Indian flora. A highly ornate as well as intricate art form, floral designs were often used as the basis for "infinite pattern" type decoration, using arabesques (geometricized vegetal patterns) and covering an entire surface. The infinite rhythms conveyed by the repetition of curved lines, produces a relaxing, calming effect, which can be modified and enhanced by variations of line, colour and texture.
Calligraphy in Islamic Decoration:
Apart from the naturalistic, semi-naturalistic and abstract geometrical forms used in the infinite pattern, Arabic calligraphy played a dominant role in Islamic Art and was integrated into every sort of decorative scheme. It links the language and religion of Islam in the Koran/Qur'an. Verses and complete passages from the Qur'an are still major sources for Islamic calligraphic art and decoration.
Thus, almost all Islamic buildings exhibit some type of inscription in their stone, stucco, marble or mosaic surfaces. The inscription is often, though not always, a quotation from the Qur'an. Or single words like "Allah" or "Mohammed" might be repeated many times over the entire surface of the walls.
Another important aspect of Islamic Art, generally completely unknown, is it's rich pictorial and iconographical tradition. The misconception that Islam was an iconoclastic or anti-image culture and that the representation of human beings or living creatures in general was prohibited, is still deeply rooted although the existence of figurative painting in Iran has been recognized now for almost half a century. There is no prohibition against the painting of pictures or the representation of living forms in Islam and there is no mention of it in the Koran (Qur'an).
Certain pronouncements attributed to the Prophet and carried in the Hadith (the collection of traditional sayings of the Prophet) have perhaps been interpreted as prohibition against artistic activity, although they are of purely religious significance. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that in practically no period of Islamic culture were figurative representation and painting suppressed, with the singular exception of the strictly religious sphere where idolatry was feared. Mosques and mausoleums are therefore without figurative representation. Elsewhere, imagery forms one of the most important elements and a multitude of other pictorial traditions were also assimilated during the long and complex history of Islamic Art.