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HISTORY OF ISLAMIC ART
"History is a mirror of the past and a lesson for the present."
Islam began in early seventh century in Arabia and quickly spread throughout
the Middle East. Before the following century Islam had already spread to Byzantium,
Persia, Africa, Europe and some parts of Asia, where many people converted to
Islam. In its first thousand years, from the revelations to the Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh) to the great Islamic empires of the eighteenth, Islamic civilization
flourished. While Europeans suffered through the Dark Ages, Muslims in such
cities as Jerusalem, Damascus, Alexandria, Fez, Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad made
remarkable advances in philosophy, science, medicine, literature, and art. The
uniting of so many diverse cultures under one religion had the advantage of
quickly disseminating the latest and best discoveries to all parts of the realm.
Paper making from China, "Arabic" numerals from India, classical Greek
science and philosophy translations, and significant contributions in chemistry,
physics and mathematics were all shared. All these diverse influences encouraged
a new civilization to emerge which would generate a new form of cultural expression
and new artistic styles.
I) Islamic Art (7th to mid-13th)
Under the Abbasid caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads (661750), the focal point of Islamic political and cultural life shifted eastward from Syria to Iraq, where, in 762, Baghdad, the circular City of Peace (madinat al-salam), was founded as the new capital. The first two centuries of Abbasid rule saw the emergence and dissemination of a new Islamic style of art where purely Islamic forms and new techniques were introduced.Textiles
Of the many diverse arts that flourished during the Abbasid period, textiles played an especially significant role in society, one that continued in subsequent periods. Textiles were ubiquitous in Islamic lands, serving as clothing, household furnishings, and portable architecture (tents). The manufacture of and trade in textiles were highly sophisticated and profitable industries that built upon Byzantine and Sasanian traditions. Often made with costly materials such as silk, and gold and silver wrapped thread and decorated with complex designs, textiles were luxury goods signifying wealth and social status. Islamic textiles were also widely exported to the West, where their prominence is underscored by their impact on European languages. Did you know that the English words "cotton" and "taffeta" derive, respectively, from Arabic and Persian?
By the mid-ninth century Abbasid political unity had begun to crumble, and by the tenth century Abbasid authority was effectively limited to Iraq. Elsewhere in the Islamic world a series of dynasties in Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and Iran fostered the development of indigenous styles of Islamic art.
The Fatimids evidently had a taste for meticulously fabricated goldwork and intricately carved vessels of rock crystal, a type of transparent, colorless quartz whose surface can be brilliantly burnished. The glassworking was also a highly developed art form.The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts, which made Cairo the most important cultural center in the Islamic world. Nearby, Old Cairo, known as al-Fustat, became a major center for the production of pottery, glass, and metalwork, and rock-crystal, ivory, and wood carving, textile factories run by government officials created tiraz fabrics in the name of the caliph elsewhere in the Egyptian region, especially the Nile Delta. The artwork from this period exemplifies the creativity and ingenuity of Fatimid craftsmen. The technique of lusterware on ceramic, developed originally in Iraq, was revived in Egypt and Syria. Some lusterware pieces from this period are signed by their makers, an indication of the esteem in which the craftsmen were held. Wood carving and jewelry were executed with equal skill and inventiveness. Fatimid artists created new decorative motifs and made greater use of figural forms, both human and animal. Figures were stylized but lively, while traditional vegetal and geometric decorations maintained their abstract quality. Artisans of this period revived or continued earlier techniques but gave them their own distinctive stamp.
In the eleventh century the Seljuks briefly ruled over a vast empire that included
all of Iran, the Fertile Crescent, and most of Anatolia, or Turkey. By the end
of the century, however, this empire had disintegrated into smaller kingdoms
ruled by different branches of the Seljuk house. Like the Ghaznavids, these
ethnic Turks embraced Persian culture and adopted the Persian language.Turkish
rule in Asia Minor was initiated under the Saljuqs following their victory over
the Byzantine army in eastern Anatolia in 1071. This important event paved the
way for the gradual introduction of Islam and Turkish culture into Anatolia.
The Saljuq sultanate of Rum (that is, Byzantium) endured until the beginning
of the fourteenth century, although from the mid-thirteenth century the Saljuqs
served merely as governors under the Mongols.
Seljuks, Central Asiatic tribesmen, entered the Islamic world at the beginning
of the 11th century. A few decades later they occupied the whole of Iran. A
branch called the Seljuks of Rum moved west to settle in Asia Minor (now Turkey).
From the 11th century until the coming of the Mongols in the early 13th, the
Seljuks ushered in a period of relative peace in which all the arts flourished
under their patronage. The Seljuk period is one of the most creatively exciting
in the history of Islamic art. Although of humble nomadic beginnings, the Seljuks,
once settled, commissioned buildings of majestic proportions and objects of
The earliest known distinctive style of Persian painting dates back to the Seljuk period, which is often referred to as the "Baghdad School". Early painting was mainly used to decorate manuscripts and versions of the Holy Koran, though some 13th century pottery found near Tehran indicates an early, unique Persian style of art. During the Mongol period, paintings were used to decorate all sorts of books.