Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the 7th century on wards by people who lived in the Muslim world. The similarities between art produced at widely different times and places in the Islamic world is the key feature of Islamic art. It includes calligraphy, painting, glass, ceramics, woodwork and textile.
It reflects the beliefs, culture and traditions of Islam. Typically Islamic art has focused on the depiction of calligraphy and interlacing patterns, rather than on figures, because it is feared by many Muslims that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and thereby a sin.
Calligraphy is the most revered form of Islamic art. It is used to represent God or “the word of God” which is The Quran. Muslim artists seek to create art by glorifying the words from The Quran.
Muslims believe that depicting figurative images of God is akin to idolatry. Therefore Muslim artists channel their artistic expressions towards decorating the word of God through calligraphy. Over the centuries this art has matured as a functional communicative script as well as artistic and graphic decorations on the walls and ceilings of Mosque and other buildings.
Arabesque is an artistic pattern created by repeating elements of geometrical floral or vegetal designs. It is a form of artistic decoration consisting of elaborative rhythmic repetition of patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, plants or plain lines. It usually consists of a single design which can be intertwined or seamlessly repeated as many times as desired creating an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world. To many in the Islamic world; it symbolizes the infinite, un centralized nature of God. Mistakes in repetitions may be intentionally introduced as a show of humility by artists who believe only God can produce perfection. Example; “Persian Flaw”
Geometric decoration often uses patterns that are made up of straight lines and regular angles that are derived from curvilinear arabesque patterns and are often said to be based on mathematical calculations and geometric principles.
Textile art encompasses rugs, carpets and silk adornments. Many provide practical usage in daily life such as floor coverings, prayer rugs, coverings for religious objects, cushions, wall coverings that provide architectural enrichment to the room.
Carpet weaving is a rich and deeply embedded tradition in Islamic societies. Initially a nomadic tradition, many centers of carpet weaving emerged in the later centuries. Famous centers of carpet weaving were located in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Central Asia, India, Spain and the Balkans. The great artisans in these centers of excellence produced some the finest rugs ever known to man but retained the Islamic tradition of humility in front of God where they would intentionally leave a flaw in their “masterpiece”, only to emphasize the only “perfect” thing in the world is God who is pure and flawless. Hence the expression; “The Persian Flaw”.
The straight lines and edges forming geometric patterns were more popular in designs from central Asia. In Persia and the Indian sub-continent artisans favored the flowing loops and curves of the arabesque.
Silk clothes were worn by nobility and the rich despite Hadith sayings against the wearing of silk. Ottomans, Persians and Moghuls all used silk in clothing. Arabesque patterns, geometric or foliate designs, or garden scenes were depicted in many of these adornments.
Silk and other richly decorated textiles were also used as covering for sacred Quran or for protection during travel (Imam Zamin). Some designs are calligraphic, especially when made for palls to cover a tomb, but others made of nobility often depict large figures of animals, especially majestic symbols of power like the lion and eagle.
CERAMICS & TILES
Islamic art has very notable achievements in ceramics, both in pottery and tiles. These items included vases, vessels, plates, — both for functional and decorative purposes. Some were richly adorned with Arabesque patterns and others bore inscriptions from the Quran.
Many centers of innovations and excellence emerged in Basra, Damascus, Tabriz and later in Iznik. Islamic pottery was often influenced by Chinese ceramics, whose achievements were greatly admired and emulated. The bold floral motifs seen in the medieval period is an example of the Chinese influence. The medieval Islamic world also had pottery with painted animal and human figures.
Tiles were used for decoration of interior and exterior walls and domes of mosques and palaces. The distinctive Islamic tradition of glazed and brightly colored tiles is commonly seen in mosques and mausoleums across Iran and Iraq. Some earlier works create designs using mixtures of tiles each of a single color that are cut to shape to create abstract geometric patterns. Later large ornate painted schemes use tiles painted before firing as seen in Persia.
In some cases letters of inscriptions, may be molded in three-dimensional relief. At other times the clay would be poured into a mold to create intricate arabesque and calligraphy patterns as seen in Alhambra.
Artisans inscribed calligraphy on tiles covering the interior of domes and columns and the Arabesque patterns provided the decorative elements
Glass making flourished under Muslim rulers in the various centers of production in Egypt, Syria and Persia.
Religious object such as mosque glass lamps were beautifully adorned with floral motifs and inscriptions from the Quran. Glass cutting, carving, combing and luster painting was prevalent in the earlier ages and later gilded and enameled glass was produced. Miniature glass paintings flourished in Persia.
Medieval Islamic metalwork offers a complete contrast to the European art, which is dominated by modelled figures and brightly colored decoration in enamel. In contrast Islamic metalwork consists of practical objects, with elegant surfaces highly decorated with dense Arabesque pattern. The color is mostly restricted to inlays of gold, silver, copper. Household items, such as ewers or water pitchers, were made of one or more pieces of sheet brass soldered together and subsequently worked and inlaid.
The use of drinking and eating vessels in gold and silver, the ideal in ancient Rome and Persia as well as medieval Christian societies, is prohibited by the Hadiths, as was the wearing of gold rings by men. Most artisans therefore used brass, bronze, tin and steel. Commonly seen are candlesticks and lamp-stands, lantern lights, bowls, dishes, basins, buckets, pen-cases and plaques. Ewers and basins were brought for hand-washing before and after each meal, so are often lavishly treated display pieces. Specialized objects include knives, arms and armor and scientific instruments such as astrolabes, as well as jewelry. Decoration is typically densely packed and very often includes arabesques and calligraphy.
Wood carving products were mostly made for functional and architectural purposes but also provided excellent opportunity for fine decoration. Most of the examples of wood carving are typically relief or pierced work on flat objects for architectural use, such as screens, doors, roofs, beams and friezes. Some of the Arabesque carving on doors and window screens is very intricate and provide mesmerizing patterns. Another example of functional yet decorative wood work are the complex muqarnas that fill in the niches in roof corners giving a stalactite-like appearance to the architecture. The finest examples of these are found in the Alhambra palace in Spain. These are often in wood and plastered over before painting.
Chests, tables and cabinets were often carved in wood and intricately decorated with very fine mother of pearls inlay work. These wooden objects are some of the finest examples of craftsmanship.