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Art Appreciation: Chapter 19

Terms in this set (16)

The history of Islamic art began after the birth of Islam in the 7th Century. The rapid spread of Islam throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia led to an assimilation of the art of these countries into a new form of Islamic art. Traces of previous civilizations and their artistic influence could still be visible in the architecture of some of the buildings now occupied by the Muslims. The main difference was that Islamic art upheld the Muslim belief in the Oneness of God (Allah) and His creation. Any art form which meant painting or drawing images of animals and human beings was not allowed as this could lead to idolatory, something totally banned in Islam.
The Arabesque, one of aspects of Islamic art, usually found decorating the walls of mosques, is an elaborate application of repeating geometric forms that often echo the forms of plants and animals. The choice of which geometric forms are to be used and how they are to be formatted is based upon the Islamic view of the world. To Muslims, these forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world, they in fact symbolize the infinite, and therefore nature of the creation of the one God (Allah).

Geometric artwork in the form of the Arabesque was not widely used in the Islamic world until the golden age of Islam came into full bloom. During this time, ancient texts were translated from Greek and Latin into Arabic. Like the following Renaissance in Europe, math, science, literature and history were infused into the Islamic world with great, mostly positive repercussions. The works of Plato and especially of Euclid became popular among the literate. It was Euclid's geometry along with the foundations of trigonometry codified by Pythagoras that became the impetus of the art form that was to become the Arabesque. Plato's ideas about the existence of a separate reality that was perfect in form and function and crystalline in character also contributed to the development of the Arabesque.

To the adherents of Islam, the Arabesque is symbolic of their united faith and the way in which traditional Islamic cultures view the world. There are two modes to Arabesque art:

The first mode recalls the principles that govern the order of the world. These principles include the bare basics of what makes objects structurally sound and, by extension.
The second mode is based upon the flowing nature of plant forms. This mode recalls the feminine nature of life giving.
In addition, upon inspection of the many examples of Arabesque art, some can argue that there is a third mode, the mode of Arabic calligraphy. But calligraphy (as seen by the Muslims) is a visible expression of the highest art of all; the art of the spoken word - the transmittal of thoughts and of history. In Islam, the most important document to be transmitted orally is, of course, the Qur'an. Proverbs and complete passages from the Qur'an can be seen today in Arabesque art.

The coming together of these three forms creates the Arabesque, and this is a reflection of unity arising from diversity (a basic tenet of Islam). The Arabesque can also be equally thought of as both art and science, some say. The artwork is at the same time mathematically precise, aesthetically pleasing, and symbolic. So due to this duality of creation, they say, the artistic part of this equation can be further subdivided into both secular and religious artwork. However, for many Muslims there is no distinction; all forms of art, the natural world, mathematics and science are all creations of God and therefore are reflections of the same thing (God's will expressed through His Creation). In other words, man can discover the geometric forms that constitute the Arabesque, but these forms always existed before as part of God's creation.

During the Umayyad peiod (661-750 AD) textiles were designed with motifs of plants and other geometric shapes. Brocades, crochet and lace patterns were introduced with an Islamic theme. The emphasis was always on continuity to reflect this quality in nature, Allah's creation. Architecture also flourished in this period and it was during this period that, amongst other famous buildings, the dome of the rock in Jerusalem was built.

In the Abassid Period (750-1258 AD) Arabesque art flourished and was usually found on the walls of mosques (Islamic places of worship), on wood, metalwork and pottery. Turkish pottery was produced which had a typical design of blue continual plant designs on a white backgrownd.

The flowing nature of these designs again reflected the infinite beauty of nature and its continuity as a life giving force.
Glazing of Pottery was also introduced in this period. This glazing technique later spread to other Muslim countries and gradually also to the west.

During the Safayid dynasty (1501-1722 AD) Islamic art appeared on carpets and the Persian hand woven silk carpets came into being. Beautiful hand made rugs, carpets and prayer mats still continue to show us the intricacy and delicacy of Islamic art in most Muslim countries.

In the Nasrid Dynasty (1238-1492 AD) The geometry of Islamic art continued and the Alhambra Palace in Spain was built. The palace has lavish stone and wood carvings and the tiles on the ceilings, walls and floors use the same continuity of geometric design.

During the Moghul times, Shah Jehan one the Muslim leaders of India built the Taj Mahal entirely of white marble. This was another building in which the Arabesque theme was continued and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Another great Moghul emperor Akbar built various building projects which reflect Iranian, Cental Asian traditions combined with Hindu and Muslim traditions. Painting was also very much part of art during the Moghul times in India.