Islamic Luxury Arts
By the end of this module you will be able to:
- Identify and describe the form, content, and context of key Islamic Luxury Arts works
- Define critical terms related to Islamic Luxury Arts
- Describe the art of Islamic glass
- Discuss how developments such as tin-opacified glazing and stone paste ceramics made Islamic ceramics some of the most advanced of their time
- Explain the making and significance of Islamic textiles
For most of the Middle Ages, Islamic luxury glass was the most sophisticated in Eurasia, exported to both Europe and China. Islam took over much of the traditional glass-producing territory of Sassanian and Ancient Roman glass. Since figurative decoration played a small part in pre-Islamic glass, the change in style was not abrupt—except that the whole area initially formed a political whole, and, for example, Persian innovations were now almost immediately taken up in Egypt.
For this reason, it is often impossible to distinguish between the various centers of production (of which Egypt, Syria, and Persia were the most important), except by scientific analysis of the material, which itself has difficulties. From various documentary references, glassmaking and glass-trading seem to have been a specialty of the Jewish minority.
Between the 8th and early 11th centuries, the emphasis on luxury glass was specifically on the effects achieved by manipulating the surface of the glass, initially by incising into the glass on a wheel, and later by cutting away the background to leave a design in relief. The very massive Hedwig glasses only found in Europe, but normally considered Islamic (or possibly from Muslim craftsmen in Norman Sicily), are an example of this, though they are puzzlingly late in date.
These and other glass pieces probably represented cheaper versions of vessels of carved rock crystal (clear quartz)—themselves influenced by earlier glass vessels—and there is some evidence that at this period glass and hard-stone cutting were regarded as the same craft. From the 12th century, the glass industry in Persia and Mesopotamia declined, and the main production of luxury glass shifted to Egypt and Syria. Throughout this period, local centers made simpler wares, such as Hebron glass in Palestine.
Lustre painting, by techniques similar to lustreware in pottery, dates back to the 8th century in Egypt and involves the application of metallic pigments during the glass-making process. Another technique used by artisans was decoration with threads of glass of a different colour, worked into the main surface, and sometimes manipulated by combing and other effects.
Gilded, painted, and enamelled glass was added to the repertoire, as were shapes and motifs borrowed from other media, such as pottery and metalwork. Some of the finest work was in mosque lamps donated by a ruler or wealthy man.
As decoration grew more elaborate, the quality of the basic glass decreased, and it often exhibited bubbles and a brownish-yellow tinge. Aleppo ceased to be a major center after the Mongol invasion of 1260, and Timur appears to have ended the Syrian glass industry around 1400 by carrying off the skilled workers to Samarkand. By about 1500, the Venetians were receiving large orders for mosque lamps.
Some of the finest work was in mosque lamps donated by a ruler or wealthy man. As decoration grew more elaborate, the quality of the basic glass decreased, and it often exhibited bubbles and a brownish-yellow tinge. Aleppo ceased to be a major center after the Mongol invasion of 1260, and Timur appears to have ended the Syrian industry around 1400 by carrying off the skilled workers to Samarkand. By about 1500, the Venetians were receiving large orders for mosque lamps.
Islamic art has notable achievements in ceramics, both in pottery and tiles for buildings, which reached heights unmatched by other cultures. Early pottery had usually been unglazed, but a tin-opacified glazing technique was developed by Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century.
Another significant contribution was the development of stone paste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq. The first industrial complex for glass and pottery production was built in Ar-Raqqah, Syria, in the 8th century. Other centers for innovative pottery in the Islamic world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600), and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).
Lusterware is a type of pottery or porcelain that has an iridescent metallic glaze. Luster first began as a painting technique in glassmaking, which was then translated to pottery in Mesopotamia in the 9th century.
The techniques, shapes, and decorative motifs of Chinese ceramics were admired and emulated by Islamic potters, especially after the Mongol and Timurid invasions. Until the Early Modern period, Western ceramics had little influence, but Islamic pottery was highly sought after in Europe and was often copied.
An example of this is the albarello, a type of earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecary ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East. Hispano–Moresque examples were exported to Italy, inspiring the earliest Italian examples, from 15th century Florence.
The Hispano–Moresque style emerged in Al-Andaluz, or Muslim Spain, in the 8th century, under Egyptian influence. More refined production happened much later, presumably by Muslim potters who worked in the areas reconquered by the Christian kingdoms.
The Hispano–Moresque style mixed Islamic and European elements in its designs and was exported to neighbouring European countries. The style introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe:
- Glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze.
- Painting in metallic lustres.
Ottoman Iznik pottery produced most of the finest ceramics of the 16th century—tiles and large vessels boldly decorated with floral motifs that were influenced by Chinese Yuan and Ming ceramics. These were still in earthenware since porcelain was not made in Islamic countries until modern times.
The medieval Islamic world also painted pottery with animal and human imagery. Examples are found throughout the medieval Islamic world, particularly in Persia and Egypt.
Islam and the Textile Arts
The textile arts refer to the production of arts and crafts that use plant, animal, or synthetic fibres to create objects. These objects can be for everyday use, or they can be decorative and luxury items. The production and trade of textiles pre-dates Islam and had long been important to Middle Eastern cultures and cities, many of which flourished due to the Silk Road.
When the Islamic dynasties formed and grew more powerful they gained control over textile production in the region, which was arguably the most important craft of the era. The most important textile produced in Medieval and Early Modern Islamic Empires was the carpet.
The Ottoman Empire and Carpet Production
The art of carpet weaving was particularly important in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman state was founded by Turkish tribes in northwestern Anatolia in 1299 and became an empire in 1453 after the momentous conquest of Constantinople.
Stretching across Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Empire was vast and long-lived, lasting until 1922 when the monarchy was abolished in Turkey. Within the Ottoman Empire, carpets were immensely valued as decorative furnishings and for their practical value. They were used not just on floors but also as wall and door hangings, where they provided additional insulation.
These intricately knotted carpets were made of silk, or a combination of silk and cotton, and were often rich in religious and other symbolism. Hereke silk carpets, which were made in the coastal town of Hereke, were the most valued of the Ottoman carpets because of their fine weave. The Hereke carpets were typically used to furnish royal palaces.
The Iranian Safavid Empire (1501–1786) is distinguished from the Mughal and Ottoman dynasties by the Shia faith of its shahs, which was the majority Islamic denomination in Persia. Safavid art is contributed to several aesthetic traditions, particularly to the textile arts.
In the sixteenth century, carpet weaving evolved from a nomadic and peasant craft to a well-executed industry that used specialized design and manufacturing techniques on quality fibres such as silk. The carpets of Ardabil, for example, were commissioned to commemorate the Safavid dynasty and are now considered to be the best examples of classical Persian weaving, particularly for their use of graphical perspective.
Textiles became a large export, and Persian weaving became one of the most popular imported goods to Europe. Islamic carpets were a luxury item in Europe and there are several examples of European Renaissance paintings that document the presence of Islamic textiles in European homes during that time.
- Between the 8th and early 11th centuries, the emphasis on luxury glass was, specifically, on effects achieved by manipulating the surface of the glass, initially by incising into the glass on a wheel, and later by cutting away the background to leave a design in relief.
- Lustre painting uses techniques similar to lustreware in pottery and dates back to the 8th century in Egypt; it became widespread in the 12th century.
- The first Islamic opaque glazes date to around the 8th century, and another significant contribution was the development of stone paste ceramics in 9th century Iraq.
- Lusterwares with iridescent colours were either invented or considerably developed in Persia and Syria from the 9th century onward.
- The techniques, shapes, and decorative motifs of Chinese ceramics were admired and emulated by Islamic potters, especially after the Mongol and Timurid invasions.
- The Hispano–Moresque style emerged in the 8th century, with more refined production happening later, presumably by Muslim potters working in areas reconquered by Christian kingdoms.
- The production and trade of textiles pre-dates Islam and had long been important to Middle Eastern cultures and cities, many of which flourished due to the Silk Road.
- When the Islamic dynasties formed and grew more powerful they gained control over textile production in the region, which was arguably the most important craft of the era.
Adapted from “Boundless Art History” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/introduction-to-islamic-art/ License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike