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The Beginnings of Islamic Art

Islamic art is the visual arts created since the 7th century by people who lived in the area that was inhabited or ruled by Islamic people. This makes it a complicated art since it encompasses many countries and a variety of people over 1400 years. It is not a specific art of a religion or of a specific period, or of a location, or even that of one medium, such as painting. The vast world that is Islamic Architecture is topic of a separate article leaving fields as diverse like calligraphy, art pottery, glass, as well as textile arts like embroidery and carpets.

Islamic art evolved from a variety of source: Roman, Early Christian art along with Byzantine styles were adopted into early Islamic architecture and art. influences from the Sassanian art of the pre-Islamic Persia was crucial; Central Asian styles were introduced through diverse nomadic incursions. Chinese influences had a profound influence on Islamic painting, pottery as well as textiles.” While the entire notion that is “Islamic art” has been criticized by some contemporary art historians who call it as a “figment from imagination” or an “mirage” but the similarities in art created across a wide range of times and in different places of the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age has been enough to keep the term widely used by academics.


The rapidly expanding Islamic period is an exact beginning for the term as Islamic art. The initial geographical boundaries of Islamic culture were found in the present day Syria. It is difficult to differentiate the first Islamic objects from those of Persian and Sassanid or Byzantine art. The change of the majority populace, which included artists, took a long time, often for centuries following the first Muslim victory. It was notable that there was an extensive production of unglazed pottery, as demonstrated by a famous small vessel that is now in the Louvre which has an inscription that confirms that it is attributed prior to its Islamic period. The motifs of plants were the most prominent in the early ceramics.

Influences of the Sassanian art tradition are evident in the representation of the King as a warrior as well as the Lion as a symbol of virtue and nobleness. Bedouin tribal traditions mingled with more sophisticated designs of the conquered areas. The first period coins featured human figures depicted in style of the Byzantine or Sassanian style, possibly to assure users of their value prior to when the Islamic style with letters only became popular.

Civic and religious architecture was created during the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750) during which time new ideas and designs were implemented.

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is among the most significant structures in the entire field of Islamic architecture. It is characterized by a distinct Byzantine influences (mosaic against gold backgrounds and a central design similar to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre) however, it is also adorned with exclusively Islamic elements, like the famous epigraphic frieze. The desert palaces of Jordan as well as Syria (for instance, Mshatta, Qasr Amra as well as Khirbat al-Mafjar) served the caliphs as living spaces reception halls, reception halls baths, and reception halls. They were also decorated, with some murals that promoted the image of a royal palace.

Ceramics work was relatively primitive (unglazed) at the time. Certain metal objects survived However, it’s difficult to differentiate these objects from those belonging to the pre-Islamic era.

‘Abd al-Malik introduced standard coins which featured Arabic inscriptions, rather than pictures of monarchs. The rapid growth of localized currency around when the dome of the Rock’s creation illustrates the change in the direction of Umayyad culture. This time period witnessed the beginning of a specific Islamic art.

In the period of this, Umayyad artists and artisans didn’t invent a new language, but they began to use words in Mediterranean or Iranian late antiquity. They then adapted these to their own ideas of art. For instance, the mosaics of the Great Mosque of Damascus are inspired by Byzantine models, but substitute the figurative elements by depictions of cities and trees. The desert palaces reflect these influences. Through blending the diverse traditions they were able to inherit and by adapting the architectural and motifs art, they created not much of a traditional Muslim art form, which is particularly evident in the style of the arabesque. This is seen on both monuments and in the illuminated Qur’ans.

The Abbasid dynasty (750 AD – 1258) saw the move to the capital city to Damascus to Baghdad and later moving from Baghdad and finally to Samarra. The transition to Baghdad affected culture, politics as well as art. The historian of art Robert Hillenbrand (1999) likens the shift to the genesis of the concept of “Islamic Rome” as the combination of Eastern influences with the influences of Iranian, Eurasian steppe, Chinese and Indian sources resulted in a new model that was the basis for Islamic art. Classical styles that were inherited of Byzantine Europe as well as Greco-Roman sources were abandoned to make way for those drawn from the modern Islamic hub. The style for the new city Baghdad was ascribed to its place in the “navel in the middle of this world” according to the historian of the 9th century al-Ya’qubi wrote.

The city of Baghdad is not able to be explored well since it is situated under the present city. It is, however, Abbasid Samarra, which was mostly abandoned was extensively researched and is famous for its preserved stucco reliefs where the early history of the arabesque is identified. Motifs discovered in the stucco found at Samarra can be used to date structures that were constructed elsewhere. They are also found on objects that are portable particularly in wood, dating from Egypt up to Iran.

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Samarra was the site of the “coming of the age” that was Islamic art. The use of painted stucco in polychrome allowed to experiment with new ways of carving and moulding. It was the Abbasid period also witnessed two significant developments in the art of ceramics that was the development of faience and metallic lusterware. Hadithic restriction on the use of gold or silver vessel led to creation of metallic lusterware, a type of pottery that was created by mixing metallic oxides and sulphur to vinegar and ochre. It was applied to a coated vessel and fired for a second time. It was expensive and it was difficult to control the second firing in the kiln. However, the desire to surpass the fineness of Chinese porcelain was the catalyst for the creation of this method.

While the popular impression about Abbasid artistic production is centered mostly upon pottery production, in reality the most significant improvement in the Abbasid period was the textiles. The government-run workshops, called tiraz were able to produce silks bearing the moniker of the monarch. They also allowed the aristocrats to show how loyal they were to the monarch. The other silks were graphic. Silk-ware’s use as wall decor, entry ornamentation, and separation of rooms was not as significant as its value in cash in this “silk path”.

Calligraphy was first used to decorate the surfaces of pottery at this time. The Illuminated Qur’ans were the focus of attention as letter forms became more complex with stylized designs to the point that they slow understanding of words in themselves.

Medieval period (9th-15th centuries)
In the 9th century, Abbasid sovereignty was contested in the provinces most far from the Iraqi central region. The establishment of a Shi’a dynasty, the one from northern African Fatimids, followed by the Umayyads of Spain brought force to this faction along with small dynasties as well as independent governors within Iran.

Spain as well as the Maghreb
The first Islamic Dynasty to establish its own on the continent of Spain (or al-Andalus) was one belonging to Al-Andalus or Spanish Umayyads. According to their name, they came from the great Umayyads from Syria. After their downfall they were replaced by their successors, the Spanish Umayyads were replaced with different autonomous kingdoms, the Taifas (1031-91) however the art of this time period isn’t different substantially from that of the Umayyads. The end of the 11th century two Berber tribes that were they were the Almoravids and Almohads took over the head of the Maghreb and Spain in succession, and brought Maghrebi influences into the art world. A string of victories won by Christian monarchs reduced Islamic Spain at the close in the fourteenth century. its city Granada which was ruled by the Nasirid family, who were able to hold their position until 1492.

Al-Andalus was a major cultural hub during Al-Andalus was a major cultural center of the Middle Ages. In addition to the great universities that taught sciences and philosophies but were not found within Christendom (such as the one of Averroes) The region was also a vital hub for the arts.

There were a variety of techniques employed to create objects. Ivory was extensively used for the production of caskets and boxes. The pyxis of Al-Mughira is a masterpiece of this genre. Metalworkers created large, elaborate circular sculptures which are usually rare within these parts of the Islamic world, were used as exquisite receptacles to store water or fountain spouts. A large number of fabrics, including silks, were imported and are now located in the church treasuries of Christendom and were used as covers for saints as Relics. In the period of Maghrebi rule, one can also observe a desire for sculptured and painted woodwork.

North Africa isn’t as extensively understood. There is a lack of understanding about the Almoravid and Almohad Dynasties are distinguished by an emphasis on austerity and simplicity, as is evident in mosques that had walls with no decoration. But, luxurious art continued to be created in abundance. It was the Marinid as well as the Hafsid dynasties produced an important, yet unexplored architecture as well as an extensive amount of sculpted and painted woodwork.

Arab Mashriq
The Fatimid Dynasty that ruled in Egypt between 909 and 1171 introduced knowledge and craft from the troubled political region of Baghdad up to Cairo.

In 1070 The Seljuks became the most powerful political power within the Muslim world after liberating Baghdad as well as defeated the Byzantines during the battle of Manzikert. In the time by Malik Shah the Seljuks excelled in architecture , and at the same when in Syria as the atabegs (governors of the Seljuk princes) were elected to the power. They were quite independent, and took advantage of conflicts with Frankish crusaders. As early as 1171, Saladin captured Fatimid Egypt and crowned the temporary Ayyubid dynasty as the ruler of the throne. The time is famous for its innovations in metallurgy as well as the mass production of Damascus daggers and swords made of steel as well as the production of ceramics, metalwork and glass of top quality were manufactured without interruption. Enameled glass became a key craft.

In 1250 In 1250, the Mamluks gained control over Egypt of the Ayyubids and, by 1261, they had consolidated their position in Syria and also their most well-known leader was Baibars. The Mamluks are not strictly speaking a family, since they didn’t follow an ancestral line of succession. In actual, Mamluks were freed Turkish and Caucasian slaves who (in the theory) transferred the power to other people who were of similar standing. The system of government lasted for three centuries, up to 1517, giving rise to numerous architecture projects (many hundreds of buildings were built during this time) as well as patronage of the fine arts was mostly centered around enameled glass and work, and is referred to as the golden period of the medieval period in Egypt. The “Baptistere of Saint-Louis” located in the Louvre is an example of the excellent quality of the metalwork during this time.

Iran as well as Central Asia
In Iran and in the north of India The Tahirids, Samanids, Ghaznavids and Ghurids were fighting for supremacy during the 10th century and art was a key aspect of the battle. The construction of great cities in the region, including Nishapur and Ghazni and the construction of the Great Mosque of Isfahan (which would be built with a variety of pauses and breaks over a period of many centuries) was started. Funerary architecture was also developed as potters developed their own distinct styles, such as kaleidoscopic decoration on a yellow background or marbled designs made by permitting colored glazes to run through the paint, or painting many layers of slip underneath the glaze.

Seljuqs, nomadic people from Turkic origin, originating from modern-day Mongolia were first introduced to the scene of Islamic history towards the end in the 10th century. They took over Baghdad in 1048 before being exiled in 1194 Iran but their production of “Seljuq” work continued to be produced until the close of the 12th century and into the beginning in the thirteenth century, under the supervision of smaller patrons and sovereigns. The political, cultural, and production of art shifted between Damascus as well as Baghdad and then to Merv, Nishapur, Rayy and Isfahan and Isfahan, all of which were located in Iran.

Popular patronage increased due to an expanding economy and urban wealth. Inscriptions on architecture tend to be more focused on the patrons of the work. For example, sultans the viziers, or officials of lower rank are often mentioned in the inscriptions of mosques. The growth of mass market production and the sale of art has made it more accessible and common to professionals and merchants. As a result of the an increase in production, a lot of relics are still in use from the Seljuk time period and can be easily dateable. However, the date older works are more difficult to determine. Therefore, it is easy to confuse Seljuk art as a modern development instead of inherited from classical Iranian as well as Turkic sources.

Ceramics innovations from this time include the manufacture of minaiware as well as the production of vessels made not from clay, but instead of the silicon-based paste (“fritware”) and metalworkers started to encrust bronze using precious metals. Through the Seljuk period that spans across the region from Iran to Iraq the unity of book art can be observed. The paintings depict animals which convey a strong symbol of treachery, fidelity, and bravery.

In the 13th century, during the 13th century, Mongols under the direction of Genghis Khan took over in the Islamic world. Following his death, his empire was divided between his sons, and he created a number of dynasties, including for instance, the Yuan in China and the Ilkhanids in Iran and the Golden Horde in northern Iran and the southern part of Russia.

A rich civilisation developed under the rule of these “little Khans” who were subordinate in their relationship to Yuan Emperor, however they quickly becoming independent. The pace of architectural development accelerated during the time that the Mongols were sedentary and maintained their nomadic past like their north-south orientation in structures. In the same time, the process of “iranisation” occurred and the construction of buildings according to earlier established designs like those of the “Iranian design” mosques, were reintroduced. Art of the Persian book was also developed under the dynasty of this period, and was aided by the wealthy patronage of massive manuscripts, such as the Jami’ al-tawarikh of Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. Ceramics were redesigned with new techniques in the form of lajvardina (a variation of luster-ware) and Chinese influence can be seen across all disciplines.

The Golden Horde and the Timurids
The early art from the Nomads in the Golden Horde are poorly understood. The research is just beginning and evidence of the development of town design and architecture is being discovered. It also saw a substantial production of gold-colored works which usually show significant Chinese influence. The majority of these works are kept in the Hermitage.

The start of the third time period in medieval Iranian art and culture, the period of the Timurids has been marked by the emergence of a third tribe of nomadic people, under the leadership of Timur. In the 15th century, this dynasty brought about an age of gold that was a golden age in Persian manuscript painting. This included famous painters like Kamal ud-Din Behzad, but there were a myriad of patrons and workshops.

Syria, Iraq, Anatolia
It is believed that the Seljuq Turks pushed beyond Iran into Anatolia and won victory against the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert (1071) and also establishing an independent sultanate from that of the Iranian part of the Dynasty. Their power appears to have diminished following the Mongol invasion in 1243, yet coins were made in their honor up to 1304. Architecture and objects combined different styles and styles, as well as Iranian and Syrian which sometimes made exact the attributions of different styles difficult. The craft of woodworking was developed and at least one illustration manuscript dates back to the time of this writing.

Caravanserais were a common sight along the main trade routes in the region, and were located between the hours of travel. The caravanserai hotels increased in size as well as fortification and replicable. Additionally, they started to include central mosques.

The Turkmen were nomadic tribes that resided in the region that is Lake Van. They were the architects of many mosques, like Tabriz’s Blue Mosque in Tabriz, and had a significant influence following the demise of Anatolia’s Seljuqs. In the 13th century Anatolia was ruled by tiny Turkmen families, who gradually took away Byzantine territory. Gradually, a larger dynasty was born, one of the Ottomans which, following 1450, were referred to as being the “first Ottomans”. Turkmen artworks are regarded as the precursors to Ottoman art, particularly that of “Milet” ceramics as well as the first blue and white Anatolian work.

Islamic book painting experienced it’s first gold age during the 13th century, with the majority of the artists coming originated from Syria as well as Iraq. Influence of Byzantine visually based vocabulary (blue as well as gold-colored beautiful and triumphant designs, symbols of drapery) together with Mongoloid facial styles in 12th-century frontispieces for books.

The earlier coins typically had Arabic epigraphs. However, as Ayyubid society evolved into more cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic, coins was able to include the astrological and figural (featuring the various Greek, Seleucid, Byzantine, Sasanian, and contemporary Turkish busts of rulers) as well as animal representations.

Hillenbrand believes that the early Islamic texts, known as Maqamat that were illustrated and copied by Yahya Ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti were some of the first “coffee tables books”. These were the first works to serve as a mirror of daily life within Islamic art, presenting comical stories and showing very little or no traces of the pictorial art traditions.

South Asia
It is believed that the Indian subcontinent, with a few northern regions that were was conquered by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids during the ninth century didn’t be declared independent until the year 1206, when Muizzi or slave-kings took over the power, resulting in the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate. The sultanates that followed were established within Bengal, Kashmir, Gujarat, Jaunpur, Malwa, and in the north of Deccan (the Bahmanids). They distinguished themselves small distance from Persian traditions, and gave birth to a fresh style of urbanism and architecture that was characterized by the interaction and Hindu art. Study of the creation of objects is not yet fully underway yet, however, the thriving practice of illumination of manuscripts is well-known. The sultanate period was ended when the arrival of the Mughals who gradually seized their territory.

The Three Empires

The Ottoman Empire was founded in the 14th century. Its origins date back to the fourteenth century remained to exist until just after World War I. This remarkable longevity, along with an enormous geographical area (stretching across Anatolia through Tunisia) and a wide range of people, led to an enduring and distinct art form that included numerous construction, massive production of ceramics used for vessels and tiles, particularly Iznik ware, as well as important jewelry and metalwork, Turkish paper marbling Ebru, Turkish carpets as well as tapestries, and magnificent Ottoman miniatures, as well as ornamental Ottoman illumination.

Masterspieces from Ottoman manuscript illustration are the two “books of celebrations” (Surname-I Humayun) which date back to the the 16th century and one from the time of Sultan Murad III. The books are filled with illustrations, and show a significant Safavid influence. Thus, they could have been influenced by the books that were published in the period of the war between the Safavid and Ottoman during late in the 16th century.

It is believed that the Ottomans are also famous for the development of a vibrant red color, “Iznik red”, in ceramics. The color was at its peak in the 16th century in both pottery and tile work featuring floral patterns which were significantly altered in comparison to Chinese and Persian designs. In the 18th century, Ottoman art was influenced by European influence, with the Turks adopting the styles of Rococo that had a long-lasting and unfavorable impact, leading to excessive decorations.

The Mughal Empire in India ran from 1526 until (technically) 1858 however, beginning in the late 17th century power shifted from emperors to local rulers and eventually European powers, including that of the British Raj, who were the most powerful power in India at the end of the 18th century. The time is renowned for the high-end arts of the court as well as Mughal styles significantly influence locale Hindu as well as later Sikh rulers, too. The Mughal miniatures began with the importation of Persian artists, particularly the group of artists brought by Humayun after his Exile from Safavid Persia, but soon local artists, mainly Hindu were educated in the Mughal style. Realistic portraiture, along with pictures of plants and animals were developed in Mughal art that was more than what the Persians had achieved to date in the past, and the size of miniatures was increased, and sometimes on canvas. The Mughal court was able to access European prints as well as other artwork which had an increasing influence as evidenced by gradually introducing elements of Western graphic perspective, as well as the wide range of human poses. A few Western pictures were copied or copied from. In the court of local Nawabs established distinct provincial styles with more inspiration from classical Indian painting were developed within the Muslim and Hindu court of the princes.

The art of jewelry and stone carvings made of hardstone, like jade, jasper decorated with rubies diamonds, and emeralds, are described in the Mughal chronicler Abu’l Fazl, and a number of examples remain and the collection of daggers made from hard stone with heads of horses is especially striking.

It is believed that the Mughals were also master metallurgists. and created Damascus steel, and further refined locally-produced Wootz steel. The Mughals have also first introduced the “bidri” method of metalwork, where silver motifs are applied to the backdrop of black. Famous Mughal metalurgists like Ali Kashmiri and Muhammed Salih Thatawi designed the seamless celestial planets.

Safavids and Qajars
It is believed that the Iranian Safavids a lineage that ran from 1501 to 1786 distinguished from Mughal as well as Ottoman Empires, as well as previous Persian rulers, partly due to the Shi’a religion of its shahs. helped to establish the most popular denomination in Persia. Ceramics are characterized by the significant impact from Chinese porcelain, usually executed in white and blue. Architecture thrived, reaching an apex through the development plan that was undertaken by Shah Abbas in Isfahan, that included many gardens and palaces (such as Ali Qapu), an immense bazaar and the largest mosque of the imperial era.

The art of illumination for manuscripts has also reached new heights particularly with the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh, an enormous reproduction of Ferdowsi’s poem that contains more than 250 works. The 17th century was when, a new style of painting was developed and is based on an album (muraqqa). Albums were the work of connoisseurs who joined single sheets of drawings, paintings, or calligraphy from different artists, often reprinted from earlier books, but sometimes created as separate work. The works of Reza Abbasi feature prominently in the contemporary art of the book, illustrating two or more models, often romanticized beauties in a landscape setting, typically using grisaille techniques used previously to create border paintings for backgrounds.

After the fall of Safavids after the Safavids’ fall, the Qajars were an ethnic Turkmen tribe that was established over times past on the shores of the Caspian Sea, assumed power. Qajar art exhibits a growing European influence, as seen in the huge oil paintings depicting of the Qajar shahs. Steelwork was also given the importance it has now. Similar to the Ottomans as well, the Qajar dynasty lasted until 1925, which was a couple of years following it was wiped out by the First World War.

Modern period
In the 15th century the number of smaller Islamic courts started to decrease in the course of time, as the Ottoman Empire and then the Safavids as well as European powerhouses, ate them up. This was a negative impact on Islamic art that was generally controlled under the patronage of the royal court. At least from the 18th century onwards the elite Islamic art was increasingly influenced European styles. Later, the arts of applied, the majority adopting Western styles or stopped to develop, but retaining the style was popular during the late 18th or 19th century. A number of industries with lengthy histories, like pottery production in Iran mostly closed and others, such as brass-based metalwork, were typically dated and the bulk of their output being sold to tourists or sold as exotica from the oriental world.

The carpet industry is vast, however it mostly employs designs that were created prior to the year 1700. It competes with machines-made replicas locally and internationally. Crafts and arts with an broader social context such as those woven with zellige from the Maghreb are often more successfully. Islamic countries have seen the development of contemporary and modern art, with a thriving art scene in certain nations, however the extent to which they should be placed into a distinct category of “Islamic artwork” is a matter of debate, even though some artists are involved with Islamic themes and incorporate traditional elements like calligraphy. Particularly in oil-rich areas within the Islamic world, much of the modern architecture and interior design utilizes themes and elements derived from the tradition that is Islamic art.

Islamic art isn’t in any way restricted to only religious art. It encompasses all the art forms of the many and diverse culture of Islamic societies too. It is often a mix of secular elements as well as elements that are considered to be a desecration, even in some cases even forbidden by certain Islamic theologians. In addition to the ubiquitous calligraphic inscriptions, particularly religious art is not as popular among Islamic art than it is in Western medieval art and art, apart from Islamic architecture, where mosques and the complexes that surround them buildings are the main remnants. The use of painting for religious purposes can be found in scenes, but typically in predominantly secular settings like wall paintings of palaces, or illuminated poetry books. The calligraphy and design of the Qur’an manuscripts is a significant aspect as is other art that is considered to be religious like glass mosque lamps and other fittings for mosques like tiles (e.g. Girih tiles), woodwork , and carpets generally have the same design and themes as contemporary secular art, but with religious inscriptions , they are more prominent.

There are recurring elements within Islamic art, for instance using geometrical floral or vegetal designs , in repetition, also called the arabesque. The arabesque symbolism in Islamic art is usually utilized to signify the eternal, unchangeable and inexhaustible character of God. The repetition of mistakes can be purposely used as a sign of the artist’s humility, by those who believe that only God can create perfection, but this idea is not accepted by all.

The majority of the time, although not completely, Islamic art has focused on depicting patterns, be it floral or geometric, or Arabic calligraphy rather than on human figures because it is believed by many Muslims that depicting the human body is idolatry, and thus an offense against God and is prohibited in the Qur’an. Human depictions can be found across all periods that comprise Islamic art, and especially within the more intimate forms of miniatures, in which they are rare. Human representations that are for the purpose for worship has been deemed idolatry, and is prohibited by certain versions that are part of Islamic law, which is also known by the name of Sharia law. There are numerous depictions of Muhammad the prophet of Islam in the history of Islamic art. small, decorative humans and animals, especially when they hunt animals, can be found on secular artifacts in a variety of mediums from different periods However, portraits took time to come into existence.