The art of Asia- Part 1- Islamic Art

Islamic Art

An important characteristic of Muslim history was the frequent invasions by various tribes from the East and, in particular, from central Asia. In the 11th century, seminomadic tribes of Turkish origin, who had converted to Islam (but nevertheless retained much of their original culture) invaded first Persia and then Anatolia. There were also incursions into Indian territories, but the outcome there was variable, due to the diverse cultures (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) that were already present. In this way, very different elements – some Chinese, others from central and southwest Asia – were blended with ancient traditions. The Islamic world was always able to assimilate artistic ideas, even from distant sources, and unify them. From Spain to central Asia and India, fundamental Muslim features were modified by strong, regional currents. An important feature of Islamic society was the mobility of its populations. One of the duties of a Muslim was to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and, as a consequence, the arts were nourished not only by the influences arising from foreign invasion but also by those resulting from internal migration.

ImageImageMetalworking is one of the many decorative arts that has always been highly prized in the Islamic world. The transformation of an inert metal into a glittering and precious object was a valued process. Islamic metal craftsmen, heirs to the tradition set by the Sassanid and Byzantine civilizations, among others, perpetuated and then reinterpreted these skills. The austere life led by the prophet Muhammad inhibited the use of precious materials by artists, and the amount of gold and silver inlaid in the bronze, brass, and copper articles was always extremely small. It was in order to avoid the accusation of violating Koranic precepts that the technique of damascening (ornamenting by etching or inlaying) was developed. The astonishing virtuosity of the artists is evident in articles produced by the cultivated 13th-century Mosul school, the more austere Khorasan school, 14th- and 15th-century Iranian workshops such as the Shiraz, and the Mameluke metalworking shops of Syria and Egypt. The most common objects were large bowls, jugs, pitchers, and goblets, of which fine specimens still exist in various museums around the world. In a class apart are the small Veneto-Saracenic metal objects produced in Damascus and Cairo for the Western market. They are distinguished by the Latin and Arabic signatures of the artists and the coats of arms of the Venetian nobility.

Of all Muslim cities, Cairo was the most remarkable for its urban architecture. Although few monumentssurvive as examples of its development in the Fatimid (ad969-1171) and Ayyubid (1171-1250) periods, the Mameluke age (1250-1517) saw an unprecedented surge of activity that is still visible today. Many huge buildings, both secular and religious, attest to the role that architecture, in the form of mosques, medersas or Koranic schools, and mausoleums -and sometimes all three under the same roof -played in public life. The glory of the sultans was measured in terms of the great architectural achievements. These massive constructions were built in stone and almost all surmounted by domes, which evolved in form from the primitive ribbed and spiralled Aytimish cupola (1383) to the „florid“ cupola, typified by the mausoleum of Sultan Kayt Bey. The outer northern wall of the medersa mosque of Sultan Hasan (1356-61) is strikingly modern and is one of the towering masterpieces of Islamic architecture. Such works played a key part in expressing the importance of Cairo in the Near East during the period of Mameluke rule.