Islamic arts, like any other convey another facet of how people perceive the world. It helps in conveying subject matter that touches on Islamic culture, beliefs and how other people across the world view Islam as a religion. Moreover, visual analysts have affirmed that this kind of art evolved from generations of artistic traditions that portray Islamic cultures and beliefs (Barber 12). Proponents of this kind of art formulated distinct rules on human and animal depiction, insinuating some older form of idol worshipping (Barber 20). Its elements of design portray primary and more complex geometric forms that are used to vividly communicate visual messages to the audience.
Besides, this is a kind of art that creates immediate and immense visual impact, especially considering how artists use colors to achieve balance. Islamic art gives prominence to crafts and decorations when compared to painting and sculptures; this is because traditionally, Islamic art has always been conveyed through decorated objects and buildings. Notably, Islamic art aims at illustrating the meaning of quintessence things while focusing on their spiritual representations of objects and beings, not their physical orientations.
History of Islamic Art
Historically, Islamic art dates back to the period between 661 and 750 AD when Umayyad patronage allowed the design of religious buildings and architectural wonders such as the Great Mosque of Damascus. Later, Abbasid Art saw the convergence of Eastern and western art forms which inspired both cultures in the period between 750 and 1258AD. During this period, artwork was developed from textile silk and wall paintings which conveyed ancient pottery, like in the Great Mosque of Samarra and the Great Mosque in Tunis. During the period of 909-1171AD, Fatimid Art in Egypt represented the cultural life of western Islam by composing figurative decorations, paintings and fronting abstraction in conveying their visual reality to the audience. Mongols later enriched western culture arts during the period between 1220 and 1360 AD; this was due to the significant devastation that was caused by Mongol armies. Significant pieces of artwork during the Mongol Art period include the Tomb of Oljeitu and Masjid-i Jami Mosque of Taj al-din Ali Shah.
Consequently, Islamic Art developed to Mamluk Art in Syria and Egypt during the period1250-1517 that saw the composition of many monumental architectural wonders of Islamic architecture. Historians have revealed that notable pieces of art of the period comprise the Madrasah-Mausoleum of Sultan Hasan and the Madrasah-Mausoleum of Sultan Kalaun (Grabar 108). These architectural wonders house splendid decorations on their interiors, characterized by a variety of media such as plaster, decorative painting and relief carving. More particularly, this period also saw the composition of enameled glass and metalwork such as Baptistery de Saint Louis, which is an artistic masterpiece of interior and exterior decoration. Artistic representations moved on to Nasrid Art in Spain during the period 1232-1492AD, promoting a culture that was centered on magnificence and the creation of glory for their rulers at the time. It was during this period that illusionary techniques for showcasing buildings as if floating on the surface were created. Consequently, decorative art saw the composition of high quality paintings that integrated weaving and embroidery. Another period worth mentioning is the Ottoman Period (c.1400-1900) that promoted Islamic culture through design of domed mosques. Consequently, studies have revealed that significant artistic works of the period entail Sulaymaniyeh and Selimiyeh Cami mosque (Grabar 95). Advances in architectural design characterized this period, with paintings being composed using color canons and forms that represented salient Muslim culture. These kinds of art are still viewed currently as they integrate realistic forms with detailed abstraction.
Islamic art exhibits wall paintings which are done both in miniature and in illuminated manuscripts. The miniature method of painting has dominated the composition of Islamic art for a long period and was a great influence during the Ottoman and Mughal periods described above. Paintings were not part of the public domain and it has been insinuated that the human beings depicted were much more relaxed (Blair & Bloom 67). Moreover, these paintings were known to contain small figures that were represented using finer details. Islamic paintings were also captured and illustrated in books and manuscripts to depict autobiographies of traditional Islamic rulers and emperors. Painting as a method of composing art was used to develop portraits of rulers, profiling their status to more realistic artworks. Besides, many miniature paintings were used to portray natural scenery, represent animals and demonstrate sexually among Islamic followers.
An example of Islamic painting is the Trojan horse that was depicted as an instrument of war which soldiers used in getting into cities during conquest ventures. It is worth remembering that most of Islamic cities and states were conquered through war and include Egypt and others countries in the Middle East. Trojan horse was effectively used to pretend and cheat war opponents that a particular group is sailing away while in real sense they are hiding inside a Trojan horse. During night soldiers would creep and open gates and attack, this was effectively to conquer countries and spread Islamic culture and beliefs. This painting conveys and reminds Muslims how their culture and beliefs was spread across the world.
Islamic Rugs and Carpets
Traditionally, Muslim rugs or carpets are considered a luxury commodity. Due to this, textile museums, rich collectors and wealthy individuals frequently seek them. The fame has been elevated by emotional mystery and the value attached to these objects. They are also durable and demonstrate the exceptional beauty associated with Islamic culture. It has been established that Muslim culture has been responsible for the history of carpet industry (Ettinghausen, Grabar & Marilyn 85). Rugs form an integral part of Islamic worship, and are frequently used in mosques and religious functions
Rugs form an essential part of Muslim cultural heritage. In many occasions, Muslims are seen kneeling or prostrating on the ground to show humility to the Creator. They have become part of the tradition because according to Muslims they have to ensure cleanliness around the place of worship. They are also important in effectively isolating holy places from public places. Their designs follow a conventional artistic design that incorporates the use of colors, line, shapes, space and texture.
The above figure displays a Memling carpet used by Muslims during prayers and worship. This supports the assertion that rugs and carpets are important in Islamic culture, especially when they are placed in holy places (Grabar 65). Apart from being an object of Muslim worship, rugs and carpets have contributed immensely to modern lifestyle, described as one of the fundamental displays of art .
Islamic Glass Making
Historians have established that Prophet Muhammad proclaimed Islam as a religion in 622 AD (Grabar 72). After his death, many Arab armies conquered what is currently known as Egypt and the Middle East. The conquerors found flourishing glass industries that were instrumental in producing objects that could be used in daily activities. Later, they integrated and improved on these designs using elements of composition, finally using forms and decoration that constituted three important elements of Islamic art: geometric ornaments, vegetal motifs and calligraphy. Moreover, they also depicted sceneries, animals and humans on the walls of this glass to communicate messages to the audience. They later incorporated composition technique of decorating and painting glass walls with metallic staining. Color was effectively used during such composition, with copper and silver dominating the most. Below is an example of artwork that encompasses the Hedwig glass, designed to imitate rock crystal.
Beautiful solid silver and gold vessels are some of the most dazzling artifacts that were produced in the late Islamic art antiquity. Silver and gold have always been used symbolically to depict heavenly adornment. Specifically, the Quran recognizes and relates blessings in paradise to such metal artwork. Such art has been part of an overwhelming visual and sensual experience that believers believe awaits those who are ascending to heaven. Studies have established that silver is a glimpse of luxury that was inherited from Roman and Byzantine art worlds (Grabar 77). Below is an example of an Islamic artwork depicting the anointing of David, this has effectively been depicted in Quran and the Holy Bible.
Islamic art has produced different artworks that have symbolically conveyed both cultural and religious beliefs. Moreover, they aided design and manufacture objects like tinted glasses and embroidered carpets, still used in life today.
Barber, Nicola. Islamic Art & Culture. Chicago: Raintree, 2005. Print.
Blair, Sheila S, and Jonathan M. Bloom. Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.
Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture
650 – 1250. New Haven, Conn. [u.a.: Yale Univ. Press, 2001. Print.
Grabar, Oleg. Masterpieces of Islamic Art: The Decorated Page from the 8th to the 17th
Century. Munich: Prestel, 2009. Print.