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The Nature of Islamic Art

The term Islamic art not only describes the art created specifically in the service of the Muslim faith (for example, a mosque and its furnishings) but also characterizes the art and architecture historically produced in the lands ruled by Muslims, produced for Muslim patrons, or created by Muslim artists. As it is not only a religion but a way of life, Islam fostered the development of a distinctive culture with its own unique artistic language that is reflected in art and architecture throughout the Muslim world.

 

As it is not only a religion but a way of life, Islam fostered the development of a distinctive culture with its own unique artistic language that is reflected in art and architecture throughout the Muslim world.

The lands newly conquered by the Muslims had their own preexisting artistic traditions and, initially at least, those artists who had worked under Byzantine or Sasanian patronage continued to work in their own indigenous styles but for Muslim patrons. The first examples of Islamic art therefore rely on earlier techniques, styles, and forms reflecting this blending of classical and Iranian decorative themes and motifs. Even religious monuments erected under Umayyad patronage that have a clearly Islamic function and meaning, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, demonstrate this amalgam of Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Sasanian elements. Only gradually, under the impact of the Muslim faith and nascent Islamic state, did a uniquely Islamic art emerge. The rule of the Umayyad caliphate (661–750) is often considered to be the formative period in Islamic art. One method of classifying Islamic art, used in the Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, is according to the dynasty reigning when the work of art was produced. This type of periodization follows the general precepts of Islamic history, which is divided into and punctuated by the rule of various dynasties, beginning with the Umayyad and cAbbasid dynasties that governed a vast and unified Islamic state, and concluding with the more regional, though powerful, dynasties such as the Safavids, Ottomans, and Mughals.
With its geographic spread and long history, Islamic art was inevitably subject to a wide ran

Citation

Department of Islamic Art. “The Nature of Islamic Art”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/orna/hd_orna.htm (October 2001)

Suggested Further Readings

  • Bloom, Jonathan M., and Sheila S. Blair. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250. 2d ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

 

Related exhibitions and online features

Other Online Features

 

These related Museum Bulletin or Journal articles may or may not represent the most current scholarship.
  • Alexander, David G. “The Guarded Tablet.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 24 (1989).
  • Ettinghausen, Richard. “The Flowering of Seljuq Art.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 3 (1970).

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About the Author
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded on April 13, 1870, in the City of New York. The Museum's collection of Islamic art ranges in date from the seventh to the nineteenth century. Its nearly twelve thousand objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions of Islam, with works from as far westward as Spain and Morocco and as far eastward as Central Asia and India. Comprising sacred and secular objects, the collection reveals the mutual influence of artistic practices such as calligraphy, and the exchange of motifs such as vegetal ornament (the arabesque) and geometric patterning in both realms.
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