Islamic Calligraphy and Painting
Calligraphic design was omnipresent in Islamic art in the Middle Ages and is seen in all types of art including architecture and the decorative arts.
By the end of this module you will be able to:
- Identify and describe the form, content, and context of key Islamic Calligraphic works
- Define critical terms related to Islamic Calligraphy and Painting
- Discuss the origin and development of Islamic manuscript painting
In a religion where figural representations are considered an act of idolatry, it is no surprise that the word and its artistic representation became an important aspect of Islamic art. The most important religious text in Islam is the Quran, which is believed to be the word of God. There are many examples of calligraphy and calligraphic inscriptions pertaining to verses from the Quran in Islamic arts.
The earliest form of Arabic calligraphy is Kufic script, which is noted for its angular form. Arabic is read from right to left and only the consonants are written. The black ink in the image above from a 9th century Quran marks the consonants for the reader. The red dots that are visible on the page note the vowels.
However, the calligraphic design is not limited to the book in Islamic art. Calligraphy is found in several different types of art, such as architecture. The interior of the Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem, circa 691), for example, features calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the Quran as well as from additional sources. As in Europe in the Middle Ages, religious exhortations such as Quranic verses may be included in secular objects, especially coins, tiles, and metalwork.
Calligraphic inscriptions were not exclusive to the Quran, but also included verses of poetry or recorded ownership or donation. Calligraphers were highly regarded in Islam, which reinforces the importance of the word and its religious and artistic significance.
Islamic Book Painting
Manuscript painting in the late medieval Islamic world reached its height in Persia, Syria, Iraq, and the Ottoman Empire. The art form blossomed across the different regions and was inspired by a range of cultural reference points.
The evolution of book painting first began in the 13th century, when the Mongols, under the leadership of Genghis Khan, swept through the Islamic world. Upon the death of Genghis Khan, his empire was divided among his sons and dynasties formed: the Yuan in China, the Ilkhanids in Iran, and the Golden Horde in northern Iran and southern Russia.
The Ilkhanids were a rich civilization that developed under the little khans in Iran. Architectural activity intensified as the Mongols became sedentary yet retained traces of their nomadic origins, such as the north-south orientation of buildings. Persian, Islamic, and East Asian traditions melded together during this period and a process of Iranization took place, in which construction according to previously established types, such as the Iranian-plan mosques, was resumed.
The art of the Persian book was born under the Ilkhanid dynasty and encouraged by the patronage of aristocrats for large illuminated manuscripts, such as the Jami’ al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. Islamic book painting witnessed its first golden age in the 13th century, mostly within Syria and Iraq.
The tradition of the Persian miniature (a small painting on paper) developed during this period, and it strongly influenced the Ottoman miniature of Turkey and the Mughal miniature in India. Because illuminated manuscripts were an art of the court, and not seen in public, constraints on the depiction of the human figure were much more relaxed and the human form is represented with frequency within this medium.
Influence from the Byzantine visual vocabulary (blue and gold colouring, angelic and victorious motifs, the symbology of drapery) was combined with Mongol facial types seen in 12th-century book frontispieces. Chinese influences in Islamic book painting include the early adoption of the vertical format natural to a book. Motifs such as peonies, clouds, dragons, and phoenixes were adapted from China as well and incorporated into manuscript illumination.
The largest commissions of illustrated books were usually classics of Persian poetry, such as the Shahnameh. Under the rule of the Safavids in Iran (1501 to 1786), the art of manuscript illumination achieved new heights. The most noteworthy example of this is the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, an immense copy of Ferdowsi’s epic poem that contains more than 250 paintings.
Maqamat and Albums
The medieval Islamic texts called Maqamat that were copied and illustrated by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, were some of the earliest coffee-table books. They were among the first texts in Islamic art to hold a mirror to daily life, portraying humorous stories and showing little adherence to prior pictorial traditions.
In the 17th century, a new type of painting developed based around the album (muraqqa). The albums were the creations of connoisseurs who bound together single sheets of paintings, drawings, or calligraphy by various artists; they were sometimes excised from earlier books and other times created as independent works.
The paintings of Reza Abbasi figure largely in this new form of book art. The form depicts one or two larger figures, typically idealized beauties in a garden setting, and often use the grisaille techniques previously used for background border paintings.
Mughal and Ottoman Manuscripts
The Mughals and Ottomans both produced lavish manuscripts of more recent history with the autobiographies of the Mughal emperors and purely military chronicles of Turkish conquests. Portraits of rulers developed in the 16th century, and later in Persia, where they became very popular.
Mughal portraits, normally in profile, are very finely drawn in a realist style, while the best Ottoman ones are vigorously stylized. Album miniatures typically featured picnic scenes, portraits of individuals, or (in India especially) animals, or idealized youthful beauties of either sex.
Masterpieces of Ottoman manuscript illustration include the two books of festivals, one from the end of the 16th century and the other from the era of Sultan Murad III. These books contain numerous illustrations and exhibit a strong Safavid influence, perhaps inspired by books captured in the course of the Ottoman–Safavid wars of the 16th century.
- In a religion where figural representations are considered an act of idolatry, it is no surprise that the word and its artistic representation became an important aspect in Islamic art.
- The earliest form of Arabic calligraphy is Kufic script.
- Besides Quranic verses, other inscriptions include verses of poetry, and inscriptions recording ownership or donation.
- The art of the Persian book was born under the Ilkhanid dynasty and encouraged by the patronage of aristocrats for large illuminated manuscripts.
- Islamic manuscript painting witnessed its first golden age in the 13th century when it was influenced by the Byzantine visual vocabulary and combined with Mongol facial types from 12th-century book frontispieces.
- Under the rule of the Safavids in Iran (1501 to 1786), the art of manuscript illumination achieves new heights, in particular in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, an immense copy of Ferdowsi’s epic poem that contains more than 250 paintings.
- The medieval Islamic texts called Maqamat were some of the earliest coffee-table books and among the first Islamic art to mirror daily life.
- Masterpieces of Ottoman manuscript illustration include the two books of festivals, one from the end of the 16th century and the other from the era of Sultan Murad III.
Adapted from“Boundless Art History” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/introduction-to-islamic-art/ License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike