Art History:   Grade 6 Lesson 2

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Islam is an Arabic word that means "acceptance", "surrender", "submission", or "commitment", and it expresses the innermost attitude of those who have hearkened to the preaching of Mohammed.

Link : Islamic Art



  1. Mosque of the Shah, 1611-1616, Isfahan, Persia (Iran), Lithograph, Reproduction photograph.
    During the time when the architecture of the Islamic world was distinguishable as an independent group of styles - from Islamic conquests to as late as the 18th century - building styles consistently appeared adapted to their surroundings. Basic elements of Islamic architecture here include a dome raised on a drum and set on a square chamber; with a great arch or iwan. Walls are covered with multi-coloured tiles of blue, cream and gold. The gateway is framed by a text from the Koran, Islam's holy scripture, and at the sides rise tall minarets. Minarets are used by the muezzin to call Islamics to prayer 5 times a day. (It is said that Mohammed disliked bells).
    bulletIsfahan & Mosque of the Shah (Black & white aerial photo)
    bulletWelcome to Isfahan World Heritage web site


  2. Mosque of Omar, 19th Cent., David Roberts, British (1796-1864), Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Lithograph, Reproduction photograph.
         The dome is the chief feature of the mosque. The faithful must turn towards the Holy City of Mecca during prayers, thus the rear wall of the mosque faces this city. A Moslem can pray whenever he likes, at home, work or in the open air. Mecca is the center of worship and was even before Mohammed's time, when many gods were idolized. A sacred stone building in Mecca, called the Kaaba, contains a large black stone which the Arabs believed had been sent from heaven.


    Mosque of Omar picture


  3. Calligraphic Ornament, c.1193, Delhi, carved sandstone. Reproduction photograph.
     The arts of sculpture and painting were never developed in Islam as much as other cultures. This fact combined with a widespread liking for decoration were among the influences that helped raise Islamic craftsmanship in other fields to the very highest levels.

    Islamic architecture was generally lively and open in feeling, as opposed to solid and shut in. This effect was sometimes achieved by decoration, often covering every surface and particularly masking the structure of the building. Such decoration however, never created a focal point or center to draw attention to itself. In particular, one feature that prevented any single element from becoming too prominent was the "infinite pattern" - a basic motif of Islamic art in all of it's forms.


  4. Timurid-style Peacock, 1370-1500,, cast and embossed steel. Reproduction photograph.

     Of all the decorative arts of Islam, the one that attracts immediate attention is metalwork, which reached the very highest level, both technically and in its standard of representation. Bronze and iron for weapons, were the metals most commonly used and to a lesser extent: gold and silver - despite a ban imposed on these by the teachings of the Koran.

    Various techniques of ornamentation were used, such as engraving and embossing, but the most important was inlaying. Using this method, a groove in the metal sheet is filled with a thread of gold, silver or copper, which is then beaten and smoothed down until absolutely no unevenness can be felt.

    Islamic metalworkers produced items for three main uses: religious, domestic and military. the first included lamps for mosques, especially those with domes to be lit. Household items included inkstands, incense burners, basins, mirrors, mugs, jewel cases, vases and ewers. The Mongols developed the art of making arms and armor, especially helmets and shields, especially damascened (ornamented with wavy patterns or with double inlay work of precious metals.)

    The merely decorative quality of this peacock tail contrasts with the simplicity of the figure as a whole. The body is cast, possibly using the "lost wax" method.

  5. Astrolabe, , 14th Cent., Arabic, Brass and Copper. Reproduction photograph.
          Moslems went far beyond the Greeks in their development of laboratory techniques, especially in chemistry and medicine. They also advanced the study of mathematics and progressed so far in astronomy that they were able to use the stars as guides as they crossed the desert. The astrolabe is a navigational instrument used to sight the sun, find the altitude of a star etc. The numbers and letters are Arabic.

    One of the greatest contributions to civilization was the introduction of Arabic numerals (Hindu in origin) to replace the clumsy Roman numeral system.

      At home Astronomy - Using a simple Astrolabe


  6. Plate, 16th Cent. Iznik, Turkey, Clay and glaze. Reproduction photograph.
     Islamic craftsmen adopted techniques from Egypt and Mesopotamia, and combined them with various methods of ornamentation: incision, including "sgraffito" in which a layer is scraped to reveal another; decorating over the slip, a creamy layer of ground clay and "impasto" in which paint is laid thickly to form an uneven surface.

    The Ottoman potters contributed new work, of which the best dates from about the 16th Century. Even today their decorations in the Ottoman style are amongst the most highly prized items of their kind in the world. Iznik was the principal center of production in this period. The main characteristics of its wares were heavy enameling; arabesques representing carnations, tulips and elongated leaves; sailing-boat motifs; and human and animal figures. Another feature, common to Turkish pottery in general, was the use of distinctive coral red with a relief effect.


  7. Bahram Gur Slays the Rhino-Wolf, c.1500, Iran, Miniature. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Reproduction photograph.

     bahram gur slays the rhino-wolf, folio from shahnama (book of kings) shah tahmasp

    This print is from the Houghton Shah-nameh, whose miniatures are among the greatest masterpieces of Persian painting ever produced; in them, the ideals of this exacting art seem to culminate. This manuscript was made for the Safavid ruler of Iran, Tahmasp, a dedicated and sensitive patron of the arts who reigned from 1525 to 1576. Its 258 miniatures include the work of the most distinguished artists of the period and probably took over 10 years to complete. This painting represents the ideal king, elegant and assured on a magnificent steed, in daring combat with a monster who combines ferocity with a delightfully decorative appearance.


  8. Muraqqa-i Gulshan (Gulshan album aka Jahangir Album), 1569-1627. Persia, Miniature. Imperial Library, Gulshan Palace, in Teheran, Iran. Reproduction photograph.
     At its finest, Islamic miniature painting had various distinctive features in common. The figures were surrounded by an elaborate multicolored frame or contained within wide borders like those of a carpet; they were usually shown as a crowd in action, on several planes; and the painting gave a bird's eye view of them. The perspective was geometrical with no attempt at naturalism, so that the artist was free to present his own personal interpretation. There were often intensely blue skies, golden leaves, and trees stylized with meticulous elegance, all creating a fairytale atmosphere. miniatures influences both carpet design and architectural decoration and these in turn had an effect on painting.


  9. Ceremonial Wall Hanging for a Tent, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada. Poster

The Islamic world has a great feeling for the written word. Most people possess a copy of the Koran and there are many well-stocked libraries. By about 1000 AD the libraries of Cordova had accumulated 140,000 manuscripts, while the largest library of the Christian world, the Vatican Library contained less than 1,000. Moslems knew about printing from the tenth century.

MOHAMMED, son of a merchant, was born in AD 570 at Mecca. he was about 40 when he began to preach; he stressed that he was not divine but only a man whom God had chosen to be his messenger. He said that he had been sent to call men to God's worship, and to bid them to put away evil before the end of the world and the Last judgment, which would not be long delayed. This message was not the taste of the ruling merchants, and the prophet and his followers were forced to flee.

Apart from the attraction of his preachings Mohammed had great talents as a strategist and a diplomat, and recruits to his cause came in rapidly. In 630 he took Mecca. After his death in 632, the revelations he had delivered over a period of some 20 years were collected into a book, the Koran.

Islam teaches that the surest way to paradise is to die fighting in the cause of God, and the Arabs soon began their career of conquest. They erupted from the Arabian peninsular and, picking recruits as they went, overran the neighboring lands. As they advanced they were joined by discontented subjects of the older empires.

The only formal requirement for a convert to Islam is that one professes that there is but one God, Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet. Men of many races joined Arabs in creating a new empire and a new civilization.

The Arab Empire became a melting pot in which many peoples were fused together. but one field in which the Arabs themselves predominated was poetry. Arabs lead the world in the study of medicine. Astrology flourishes alongside more scientific study of astronomy. The prophet, Mohammed, urged his followers to "seek learning." Every miniature, every mosque, every line of the poets is a tribute to him. Islam's greatest contributions lay in the encouragement which it has given to the spread of learning.


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