Despite its name, Islamic art is not the art of a specific religion, nor is it art of a specific time, place, nor of a single medium. What it is, however, is art that covers a period of some 1400 years – art that comes from many lands and peoples, and art that includes architecture, calligraphy, painting, glass, ceramics, and textiles, among others.
Islamic art doesn’t include only religious art, but also includes art from the rich and diverse cultures of Islamic societies. As a matter of fact, it quite often features elements that some Islamic theologians may consider forbidden, though it does differ greatly from the figural depictions of Christian art as religious representations are forbidden in Islam. As a result the tradition of calligraphy and calligraphic inscriptions takes the forefront, the word often replacing the figural representation as can be witnessed in the calligraphic decorations of handwritten Quran manuscripts.
Religious significance also roots itself in the mosques and lavish gardens of paradise in Islamic architecture. Although you’ll find there are some figurative paintings that cover religious scenes in Islamic art, more often than not, they are usually secular in nature such as palace walls and illuminated manuscript borders of poetry books as examples.
Although they usually feature more well-known religious inscriptions, glass mosque lamps, tiles with their Girih patterns tiles, woodwork, carpets and other examples of religious Islamic art usually display the same style and patterns as contemporary secular art.
Greek, Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine art styles were the main influences on early Islamic art as was pre-Islamic Persia’s Sassanian art style. Various nomadic invasions brought with them Central Asian styles, and Islamic painting, pottery, and textiles were influenced by the Chinese as well.
Art historians define arabesque as “a winding, spiraling, undulating, or serpentine line or linear motif”, and Islamic art is perhaps best known for its arabesque elements which are often used to symbolize God’s transcendent, indivisible and infinite nature. According to some scholars, however, some artist who believe only God is capable of perfection may intentionally make mistakes in their arabesques to show their humbleness.
Since many Muslims believe that it is a form of idolatry to depict both the human and animal figures, Islamic art has generally focused on using arabesques and other patterns along with Arabic calligraphy, rather than depictions of human or animal. That being said, however, one can find depictions of the human form and animals can be found the Islamic secular art.
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