10 Interesting Facts about Islamic Art

When we think of the term Islamic Art, usually the first image that comes to mind is of those intricate geometric designs that have come to symbolize this otherwise misunderstood era in the artworld. While art of the Islamic world can't be categorized as fine art, but rather as decorative art, there is no denying that the Islamic world has produced a wide variety of breathtaking, detailed and complex artworks, which can't all be discussed in just one article. We have, however, gathered some interesting facts about this art form that spans 1300+ years and incredible geographic diversity as Islamic empires and dynasties controlled territory from Spain to western China at various points in history.

  • Unlike other religious art forms, the term Islamic art doesn’t refer to religious art. Rather, it refers to all art forms created in the Islamic world; the lands where Islam was the dominant religion, or the religion of those who ruled the land.

  • Unlike common forms of western art which are comprised mainly of paintings and sculptures, Islamic art is made up of three main forms; architecture (religious like mosques, secular like buildings and palaces, and homes), the art of books (calligraphy, illustration, illumination and bookbinding) and the art of objects (textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, and glass)

  • Early Islamic art was greatly influenced by Roman, early Christian art, and Byzantine styles. Much of the Islamic art around the world was, and still is, the result of a fusion between local culture and traditions with more global ideas.

The Great Mosque of Xian, China, is one of the oldest and best preserved mosques in China.
  • One of the reasons the study of Islamic art has fell behind other art forms is its decorative arts such as carpets, ceramics, metalwork, and books are types of art that Western scholars have traditionally valued less than painting and sculpture.

  • The four elements of Islamic decoration are: 1) calligraphy, 2) geometric designs, 3) floral and plant designs, and 4) sometimes human and animal figures.

Caligraphy and Geometric design Tilework, El Mexuar (photo: MCAD Library, CC BY 2.0)
  • Influenced by art from Persia, China and the Near East, the arabesque style of Islamic art features repetitive flowing or geometric patterns with intricate details and bold colors.

Arabesque inlays at the Mughal Agra Fort, India

  • There are themes and types of objects that link the arts of the Islamic world together. Calligraphy is a very important art form in the Islamic world. Quranic verses, executed in calligraphy, are found on many different forms of art and architecture. Likewise, poetry can be found on everything from ceramic bowls to the walls of houses. Geometric and floral motifs are very popular throughout the lands where Islam was once or still is a major religion and cultural force, appearing in the private palaces of buildings such as the Alhambra, in Spain, as well as in the detailed metal work of Safavid Iran.

  • One of the most famous monuments of Islamic Art is the Taj Mahal, a royal mausoleum, located in Agra, India. While Hinduism is a majority religion in India, Muslim rulers dominated large areas of India for centuries, which resulted in the country having a wide range of Islamic architecture.

  • The most commonly used method of organizing art of the Islamic world is by time periods; Early, Medieval and Late periods. Of the most significant architectural works for each period respectively are Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Alhambra in Granada, Spain and the Taj Mahal in present day India

The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra) (photo: Brian Jeffery Beggerly, CC BY 2.0)
  • Simple forms such as the circle and the square were combined, duplicated, interlaced or arranged into detailed and intricate combinations to create the the geometric patterns which are the most recognizable feature of Islamic Art

Islamic geometric patterns (photo by Arabic Online)

The art of the Islamic world is more than a movement, it spans a long history and tremendous geographical diversity, with beautiful, detailed and ever changing artworks to be used and admired. Every piece of art tells of the history, culture, and traditions of the place from which it came, offering us tremendous diversity to be found all over the world. With ever growing interest in this beautiful and complex art from, art of the Islamic world is certainly worth studying in much more details

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