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Decorative Techniques through Generations in Islamic Art

Whether produced in a courtly or an urban setting or for a religious context, Islamic art is generally the work of anonymous artists. Given the great number of extant examples, comparatively few signatures are found on metalwork, pottery, carved wood and stone, and textiles.

Those signatures that do occur, combined with rare evidence from contemporary textual sources, suggest that families of artists, often over several generations, specialized in a particular medium or technique. Often time the artist was an artisan whose stock of patterns and technical skills were handed down from generation to generation within specialised families. Learning the techniques, the firing or glazing of the pottery, the weaving of the cloth etc., and learning the particular shapes and designs to be used, formed a single process in training the young.

The least artisanal work, such as woodwork, pottery, weaving, and so forth includes, beyond its material technique, a certain transmitted science, sometimes reduced to some very simple rules but always bearing an aspect of wisdom, which the artisan will more or less penetrate, according to the degree of his contemplative intelligence and his experience.

It has been said that work with ones hands allows one to know oneself. In this way, manual art can be a means through which man is better able to contemplate on his Lord. Not only by recognising the bounty of materials that God has provided him/her with, but also, more importantly through recognition of ones own capabilities and limitations as an artisan, when comparing his work to the Greatest of Crafters.
In contrast to Western art, in which painting and sculpture are pre-eminent, it is in the so-called decorative arts that Islamic art found its primary means of expression.


Through the diversity of the Islamic Empire, which linked together, for the first time in history, such varied and distant peoples as Spaniards, Africans, Persians, Turks, Egyptians and Indians, a quick dissemination of knowledge and artistic merging arose.

During Parthian and Sasanian times, the ceramic arts had been little patronised by the wealthy, especially east of Iraq. Even in villages, the pottery remained undistinguished as compared with that of earlier centuries. But for the first time, under Islamic Abbasid rule, porcelains imported from China (in its expansive Tang period) inspired a distinct revival of ceramic art.

The porcelain imports could not be duplicated, but ways were found to imitate its whiteness. They succeeded in developing many original decorative techniques including lustre ware and a method of polychrome painted ware called Minai. These same decorative techniques were utilized in tile making, in which Muslims were unsurpassed.

About the Author
Goshaenur is a non-profit bookstore facilitating outreach to Islamic Thought and Art focused on publications and craftsmanship of Pakistan.
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