Islamic Art

Introduction

Summary

Summary of Islamic Art
architecture mosques
painting calligraphy/pattern decoration, illumination

General Features

Islam was founded by Muhammad in the early 600s, in what is now Saudi Arabia (see History of the Islamic Middle East). Muhammad united the Arabs into an Islamic empire known as the Caliphate, which expanded rapidly across Arabia (under Muhammad's rule) and across Southwest Asia and North Africa (under his successors). By about 650, the Caliphate had supplanted the Second Persian Empire as the dominant power of Southwest Asia, and the Byzantine Empire as the dominant power of North Africa.

Islamic culture emerged from the blending of Arabian traditions with Persian and Byzantine cultural features, which were absorbed as the Caliphate's borders expanded. This new culture radiated throughout the Muslim world. Consequently, all Islamic nations (despite their immense diversity) share a common cultural foundation, and may be referred to collectively as Islamic civilization.7

The primary fine arts of of Islamic civilization are painting (which centres on calligraphy and arabesques) and architecture.

Main Article

Islamic Architecture

The principal form of Islamic architecture is the mosque. Other great Islamic buildings, both secular (e.g. palaces) and religious (e.g. shrines, religious schools, mausoleums), comprise adaptations of the mosque aesthetic. Islamic construction is almost exclusively arched (rather than post-and-beam), reflecting the Caliphate's absorption of Byzantine and Persian architecture. A classic feature of Islamic architecture is the horseshoe arch.

Horseshoe Arches

The central component of the mosque is the prayer hall, where religious service is conducted. The prayer hall, traditionally covered with a great dome (which may be flanked with smaller domes), contains the minbar (a lectern from which sermons are delivered) and mihrab (a niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which Muslims direct their prayers).7 (A lectern is an elevated desk, typically used to hold a document for public recitation.)

Another common feature is the minaret: a narrow tower with a balcony from which (traditionally) the call to prayer is sounded five times a day. Minarets are often attached to the prayer hall, or positioned around the edges of an arcaded courtyard, itself joined to the prayer hall on one side. In addition to the prayer hall and minarets, the mosque layout may be embellished with additional rooms or buildings.

The weekly Islamic religious service, which includes a sermon and group prayer, takes place on Friday. Many of the world's mosques consequently bear the name Friday Mosque.

Typical Mosque Layout
Mosque in Syria
Mosque in Iran
Mosque in Turkey
Mihrab and Minbar

Islamic Painting

Given that Islamic civilization has traditionally prohibited the depiction of figures in visual art, Islamic painters concentrated their efforts on calligraphy and intricate patterns. The latter may be purely abstract, or may feature floral elements.D161 The term arabesque, meaning "intricate pattern", springs from the predominance of such patterns in Islamic art.

Calligraphy and arabesques are found in abundance upon Islamic architecture (e.g. painted ceramic tiles, mosaics, tracery) and decorative art (e.g. ceramics, metalwork, textiles).

Calligraphy and Pattern Decoration of a Mihrab
Calligraphy and Pattern Decoration of a Minaret
Calligraphy and Pattern Decoration of a Dome Interior
Islamic Dish
Islamic Textile
Islamic Glassware
Islamic Metalwork

The prohibition of figures in Islamic visual art has generally been strictly enforced, with one major exception: manuscript illumination. In stark contrast to the abstraction of most Islamic visual art, the pages of many Islamic manuscripts feature lush representations of the physical world, including human figures. The scope of Islamic illumination was limited in two ways, however: only secular subjects (with rare exceptions) were treated, and illumination only flourished in the Persianate branch of the Islamic world.F104,H339,27

Branches of Islamic Culture

Islamic illumination is clearly rooted in the civilization's long tradition of flat patterns. Figures (and their physical environments) are not rendered in a realistic, three-dimensional manner, but rather as outlined areas of flat colour. A typical scene is filled with many pattern-covered areas, such as clothing, architectural surfaces, and foliage.F104,H342

Islamic Illumination
Islamic Illumination
Islamic Illumination
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