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Islamic art
Islamic art

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The birth of Islam in the 7 th century A.D

In the seventh century B.C the religion of Islam began to spread from the desert plains of Asia into all the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, ranging as far north as the Byzantine Empire and west, into the northern areas of Africa and the entirety of Spain .

The mentality that pervades all of the Islamic art is homogonous throughout all of these areas, as this art form draws its complex, decorative designs from the ancient art of calligraphy that is unique to the holy book of the Muslims- the Koran. It also shows clear influences from Sassanian and Byzantine art.

The central place of religious calligraphy in Islamic art

This rigid, calligraphic artistic mentality was used in all of the Muslim countries and can be easily recognized around the world. In the tradition of Muslim beliefs, art was almost never made for personal or secular purposes and so much of it is seen together- in the severe, gigantic architectural proportions of the Mosques, in the carpets that were lain down for the prayers convenience, in the dazzling mass of decorations that embellish almost every wall and opening. There is, however, so much diversity of nuance in each particular culture and country; each is influenced by ethnicity and language, the period of time in which it was built and the political reality of the time. In some countries the style was stripped of its weighty ornamentation and mosques are left utterly bare and austere, with only some glimmers of bright color, in others there is not a single space left untouched and unadorned.

The general abhorrence of figurative imagery in Islamic art and the glorification of the Mosque

All the elements of religion are decorated with equal fervor. Reflecting the true principles of Islamic faith, nothing separates one supplicant to another in the Mosque, there are no special seats attached to high rank, and the ground floor in always level. Even the “minbar”, which is the preacher's pulpit, is only slightly raised off the ground, and only to allow a larger congregation to hear and see him. This style also permitted every possible media- from architecture to sculpture, pottery, wood carving, metalwork, furniture making, pottery, plaster molds, weaving, painting, book illustration and exquisite mosaic works. Every piece and wall is vividly colored and very decorative, with the same stylized motifs returning again and again, for the most part complex geometric designs. Like the Jews, most Muslim art steered clear of portraying figurative images of men, though there is no specific ordinance in the Koran that forbids it. There are some famous figurative examples that deny this claim, but they are certainly not the majority. The praying mats and walls are all usually decorated in complementing motifs- all lying in the direction of the “kiblah”; which points unerringly to the holy city of Mecca . Motifs of the allegorical Garden are also present, symmetrically aligned to represent the ephemeral world that exists as the celestial balance to our material world. There are endless depictions of roses- “wardah”, the ancient and lost symbol of the feminine divinity that is found in all of the monotheistic religions, with interlocking leaves; all endlessly encircling the precious scriptures of the Koran. The calligraphy of that holy book is ever-present and is the most recurring element in all these medias; with scriptures of the Koran either sculpted into the walls or embedded into them in the shape of a mosaic.


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