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Islamic Art & Architecture. Faith, Pattern, Geometry. The Kaaba, Mecca. Pilgrims surrounding the Kaaba (dedicated by Mohammed). Kaaba & Islam. Originally held various “pagan” icons Mohammed fled Medina (the hijira) for Mecca and threw out icons from the Kaaba (aniconism)

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islamic art architecture

Islamic Art & Architecture

Faith, Pattern, Geometry

kaaba islam
Kaaba & Islam
  • Originally held various “pagan” icons
  • Mohammed fled Medina (the hijira) for Mecca and threw out icons from the Kaaba (aniconism)
  • Islam calls for worship of only one god
kaaba islam1
Kaaba & Islam
  • Figurative art, especially religion, avoided
  • Islamic artists use nonfigural ornament, text, arabesques (scrolling vines) & complex patterns

However this varies by region/time frame.. What examples can you think of?

the kaaba
The Kaaba
  • Millions of faithful Muslims PILGRIMAGE or ha’ij to Mecca
  • Part of 5 pillars of Islam for those able to go
  • Inscribed with a few verses of the Qu’ran (Koran)
so how does this fit islam
So how does this fit Islam?
  • Merchant al-Amin saw vision of angel in 610 CE
  • Mohammed (messenger of God), went to Mecca
  • Recited revelations of the angel in chanted verses
  • His followers wrote down the verses, became the Qur’an
  • Attracted 1000s of followers; but angered the powerful
  • Fled Mecca for Medina (built first mosque) place of worship/prayer
  • Returned to Mecca with army of 10,0000
  • Emptied the Kaaba - now symbolic center of all Muslim prayer and destination for the ha’ij.
5 pillars of islam
5 Pillars of Islam
  • Allah (one god) : Mohammed = msgr
  • Prayer facing Mecca 5x day (fountains in courtyards for ablutions/washing)
  • Zakah - alms/tax to help poor
  • Daily fasting during Ramadan (annual festival)
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca - circumambulate Kaaba
  • What other monotheistic religions do you know of?

The Spread of Islam in the Middle East and Europe

Four caliphs/followers of Mohammed succeeded --spread into India, Africa, Spain

the 4 caliphs
The 4 Caliphs

Arabic was used to study and teach, but also simply to delight the eye

  • Ruled after Mohammed
  • 3rd Caliph Uthman - completed the Qur’an… unifying force of the Arabic language
  • Ali was the 4th caliph; power struggle - assassination in 661


  • Shi’a = followers of Ali as the one true caliph
  • Sunni = believe all 4 caliphs were “rightfully guided”

Where are the Shia’s and Sunnis still fighting TODAY ?????

early dynasties of the islamic empire umayyads 661 750
Early Dynasties of the Islamic Empire - Umayyads 661-750
  • Following Ali’s assassination, Umayyad Dynasty founded (661-750)
  • Empire expanded into Persia, Egypt, Syria & Palestine w/in 20 years
  • Went into India, N. Africa and Spain by the early 700s.
  • Built mosques and palaces from capital in Damascus.

The Dome of the Rock was the first great monument of Islamic Art.



View of

The Dome

Of the Rock



The rock was where Mohammed ascended to God, according to Islam


Dome of the Rock, interior

Jerusalem flashcard

Begun 691 CE, Umayyad

1st great Islamic monument

3rd most holy site in Islam

Built on holy site for Jews & Christians too;

Islamic view : Mohammed completed the prophecies of those faiths

Frieze of Qur’an writings of gold mosaic on turquoise background-oldest written Qur’an verses

Oldest use of Qur’an in architecture

  • Golden dome, marble veneers, rich mosaics & patterned carpets
  • Dome atop octagonal drum w/ arcades of piers and columns
  • ambulatory aisles for faithful to walk around

Frieze from façade of Palace at Mshatta (Jordan, 743 CE)

  • Umayyid caliphs built palaces such as the one at Mshatta
  • Frieze divided into triangular compartments, geometric shapes contrasting with organic vines, scrolls with birds and animals
  • Near the mosque portion no animals or birds were shown (aniconism).
  • Where did we see friezes in ancient and classical times?
early dynasties of the islamic empire
Early Dynasties of the Islamic Empire
  • Ummayids were replaced by Abbasid dynasty in 750;
  • Ruled from Baghdad until 1258.
  • Abbassids borrowed artistically from Roman, Byzantium, China, Persia & India
  • Abbassids; medicine, arts, literature

The Dome of the Rock was the first great momument of Islamic Art.

mosque features plans
Mosque Features & Plans
  • Hypostyle (multicolumned) mosques such as the Great Mosque of Tunisia
  • Added courtyard, flat roofed hypostyle prayer hall towards Mecca
  • Qibla wall - mihrab
  • Mihrab = niche for holy place, such as Torah scrolls in a synagogue or niche for Roman god statue

Know & recognize these 3 characteristic arches/niches from Islamic architecture

Muqarnas are unique to Islam

Often stacked and used in multiples, very intricate and dazzling to the eye

Sometimes vault domes, or used as part of a mihrab



Tile Mosaic Mihrab,

from the Madrasa Imami, Isfahan

Medium: Glazed and cut tiles

Size: 11\'3" X 7\'6"

14th century Iran

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of finest examples of early architectural ceramic decoration

3 inscriptions: outer in cursive, Qur’an verses about 5 Pillars of Islam.

Inner Kufic sayings of prophet

Center panel: line in Kufic says

“The mosque is the house of every pious person.”



Minbar (pulpit)

Example of beautiful wood and ivory inlaid Minbar from mosque in Cairo, Egypt (15th Century)


Qibla wall from Sultan Hasan Madrasa-Mausoleum-Mosque

Cairo Egypt

14th century

Example of elaborate Qibla (prayer wall) with minbar (pulpit), mihrab (niche)


Prayer Hall, Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain

  • Spanish Umayyad dynasty, 8th century
  • Flashcard
  • Emir was patron of arts
  • Cordoba was capital
  • Appropriated former Christian church from Visigoths
  • Expanded by later rulers
  • Hypostyle prayer hall marble columns
  • Horseshoe arches (adopted from Romans!)
  • Alternating red brick and white stone voussoirs in the curved arch
  • Domes were beautiful mosaics done by master Byzantine artists; trade diplomacy and competition in the medeival Mediterranean

Dome of Great Mosque of Cordoba, in front of the mihrab

Note intricate mosaics

Islamic interest in mathematics & geometry


Students will discuss this with the class.

Note dome, and minarets

Sultan Selim Mosque


Mosque of Sultan Selim, Edirne

  • Ottoman Empire, 16th century Turkey
  • Architect Sinan (for Suleyman the Magnificent)
  • Flashcard
  • Minarets almost 300’ high, only 12’ in diameter
  • Only royal mosques allowed multiple minarets

Square base transitioned to central dome with corner half domes

Gigantic hemispheric dome larger than Hagia Sophia

Complex held mosque, madrasa, hospittal, kitchens, market, baths

Central plan with fountain (see plans)


Interior of dome of

Mosque of Sultan Selim Edirne



Four Iwan Mosque plan

Congregational Mosque, Isfahan

Developed in Iran

Iwan = huge, barrel vaulted walls with arch entrances

Cross-axial emphasis

Central courtyard

Qibla is the prayer wall



Great Mosque of Ishafan (Iran)

Note iwan walls with vaulted entrances

Mosaic tile decoration


Four iwan plan

17th century, lots of additions since

  • Students will present
  • Art of fine hand lettering
  • Qur’an word of god- must be written with devotion & embellishment
  • Verbal information & aesthetics

Arabic manuscript page

Kufic headings

Naskhi (Iran) scripts

Calligraphers enjoyed very high status, included women and princes

20 cursive scripts in use by the 10th century

Qur’an usually wrote on parchment or vellum

ceramics glassware
Ceramics & Glassware
  • Students will present
  • Samarkand
  • Fritware
  • Figurative embellishment, especially when illuminated manuscripts & books popular

Samarkand ceramics had a beautiful white ground like Chinese porcelain.

Border is Kufic script;

Calligraphy often used for decoration as well as text.


Mamluk Glass Oil Lamp, Syria or Egypt, 14th century

Glass, polychrome enamel, gold

Egyptians produced 1st glass in 2nd millenium BCE

13th century CE artistic exchanges in Italy, Syria, Egypt developed new molding and blowing techniques

Used for mosques

Kuranic inscription: God is the light of the heavens.

European heraldry symbols



The Macy Jug


Painted fritware, incised

1215-1216, Iran

Now at Metropolitan Museum of Art


Technique to produce lustrous metallic surface on fired ceramic

Painted dense, elaborate patterns of animals, foliage, etc.

Originally FRITWARE used for beads in ancient Egypt

oriental rugs
“Oriental” Rugs
  • Students will present
  • Worldwide popularity even through today
  • Knotted carpets date back 4th century BCE
  • Silk weaving exchange with China (China Silk Road)
  • Paradise & garden associations

Banner of Las Navas de Tolosa

Silk tapestry weave with gilt parchment

Trophy taken by Christian King Ferdinand III.. Detail of center section

Calligraphic panels

oriental rugs1
“Oriental” Rugs
  • Rugs used for Muslim prayer
  • Knotted rugs technique passed down thru generations

Medallion Rug

Star Ushak Style

Note patterns which reverse symmetry

Infinite arabesque that repeats in all directions

art of the book
Art of the Book
  • Students will present
  • Parallels illuminated manuscripts in Europe
  • More figurative embellishment allowed
  • Persian miniatures
  • Islamic emphasis on Qur’an

Qur’an Frontspiece, Cairo Egypt, 1368 CE.

Nonfigural designs from Mamluk Egypt

Intricate designs paralleled



Caliph Harun Al Rashid Visits Turkish Bath

Kamal al Din-Bihzad

From Herart School of Miniature painting in western Afghanistan

Bihzad paintings illustrated Khamsa Five Poems.

Bathhouse accepted from Roman society in Islamic world in Turkey, Jordan.


Another Bihzad miniature

Shirin sees Khusraus Portrait


Tugra of Sultan Suleyman

Istanbul, Turkey

16th Century, Ottoman Empire

Ink, paint, and gold on paper

Tugras combined the ruler’s name with the phrase Eternally Victorious

Tugras appeared on seals, coints, buildings, edicts

Body design may have been inspired by Chinese ceramics




Recognize Court of the Lions

Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada, Spain; 14th Century

City of Gardens .. Islamic palace set in gardens. Complex citadel with dramatic views, miradors (lookout windows). Beautiful ceiling with clustered muqarnas

8 pointed star ceiling (next image)


Muqarnas Dome, hall of the Abencerrajes,

Palace of the Lions, Alhambra