Skip to Main Content

Islamic Art

The best books, eBooks, articles media and open access resources for Islamic art.

Focus on Muhammad on his way to Conquer Mecca

Islamic Art

Islamic art began to develop as a unique synthesis of the diverse cultures of conquered countries from the 7th century. Early Islamic art and craft is best illustrated in the architecture of the mosque. Two of the most impressive surviving examples of early Islamic architecture are the Dome of the Rock (685-92) in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (c.705). Common architectural forms, such as the dome, minaret, sahn (courtyard), and the often highly-decorated mihrab (prayer niche) and mimbar (prayer pulpit) developed in the 9th century. Mosques also acquired rich surface decorations of mosaic, carved stone and paint.

In Spain, Moorish architecture developed independently after the Umayyads were forced to flee there by the Abbasid dynasty. It is characterized by its use of the horseshoe arch, faience and stone lattice screens, as seen in the Alhambra. Islamic Cairo is a world heritage site of Muslim architecture, often derived from Iranian innovation. The Ibn Tulun Mosque (879) is a fine example of early brick and stucco form. The Al-Azhar Mosque displays 10th-century developments. The masterwork of Persian mosques, with their distinctive onion-shaped domes and slender pencil minarets, is the Isfahan Imperial Mosque (1585-1612). The Iranians influenced the Islamic architecture of India and Turkey.

Because of a religious stricture on the representation of nature, Islamic art developed stylized figures, geometrical designs and floral-like decorations (arabesques). The Koran was the focus for much of the development of calligraphy and illumination. Many cursive scripts were developed in the 10th century, and the most commonly used, Nastaliq, was perfected in the 15th century. Muslim secular art included highly ornamented metalwork (often inlaid with red copper), which developed in the 13th century around Mosul, N Mesopotamia. Pottery and ceramics were advanced, featuring glazes and decoration. The Islamic minai (enamel) technique reached its zenith in the 16th century in Isfahan, where entire walls were decorated in faience. Perhaps the best-known art of the Islamic world is that of rug-making.

From CREDO Islamic Art and Architecture: Phillip's Dictionary.

Art & Art History Guides