ART 140 Lecture 10: Art of the Islamic world

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17 Sep 2016
Samantha Pastron
Early Islamic Art Cont.
Gardner 128-142
Great Mosque, Cordoba
Abd al-Rahman I, eminent Umayyad that escaped the Abbasid massacre of the Umayyad’s in
Syria, fled to Spain in 750 where the Arabs had overthrown the Christian Kingdom of the
Visigoths in 711. Arab military governors took in al-Rahman I as their overlord. He founded the
Spanish Umayyad dynasty. Capital was Cordoba. It became center of brilliant culture rivaling
that of the Abbasids at Baghdad and influences the civilization of the Christian West.
Great Mosque began construction in 784 and enlarged numerous times during 9th and
10th centuries and became the largest mosque in the Islamic West.
Hypostyle prayer hall with 36 piers and 514 columns topped by double tiered arches that
held up a wood roof (later replaced by vaults)
arches used to raise roof because columns, reused from previous structure, were
too short
lower arches are horseshoe shaped = adapted from earlier Near Eastern architecture or of
Visigothic origin
horse shoe arch became associated with Muslim architecture in the West
arches contribute to light and airy effect of mosque’s interior
Maqsura: added by caliph al-Hakam II, is a space only for the caliph and connected his
palace by a corridor to the qibla wall
example of Islamic experimentation with decorated multilobed arches
walls covered in marble and mosaics (brought to Spain from Constantinople by
al-Hakam II to emulate mosaic clad monuments in Jerusalem and Damascus)
dome: added by al-Hakam II, covers area in front of mihrab, one of 4 built to emphasize
the axis leading to the mihrab, rests on an octogonal base of squiches, covered in mosaics
done by Byzantine artists who did the maqsura’s decoration
Luxury Arts
Silk: among glories of Islamic art, first manufactured in China and then brought over to the
Middle East and Europe via the Silk Road.
earliest fragment is in France, perserved because of its association with the relics of Saint
Amon house in Toul Cathedral. Possibly used to wrap treasures transported to France in
design based on Sasanian models; repeated medallions with confronting lions
flanking a palm tree; animals scamper between the roundels (tondi, or circular
zoomorphic motifs not in mosques but in Muslim households
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Metalwork; Cast Brass Ewer; signed by Sulyman, dated 796, 15 inches tall, free standing
statuette, holes between eyes and beak function as a spout, decoration in body in traces of silver
and copper inlay of lines depicting feathers, rosettes on the neck, large medallions on breast and
inscribed collar have no basis in anatomy
similar motifs appear in Islamic textiles, pottery and architectural tiles
Calligraphy has higher place of honor than textiles. Passages from Koran appear in books, walls
and object b/c the faithful wanted to reproduce the Koran’s sacred words in as beautiful a script
as a human hand could do. The process is a holy task and requires training.
Later Islamic Art
Nasrids built palace-fortress in Granada called Alhambra (“The Red”) because of rose stone
used for walls and 23 towers. Complex had population of 40,000 with half a dozen royal palaces.
Present picture of court life in Islamic Spain before Christian reconquest
Palace of the Lions named after courtyard with fountain with marble lions. Colonnaded
courtyards with fountains and statues common in Mediterranean world. Alhambra’s lion
fountain is freestanding stone sculpture
the courtyard is distinctly Islamic and has multilobed poited arches and lavish
stuccoed walls with calligraphy and abstract motifs interwoven
octogonal drum supported by squinches, pierced by 8 pairs of windows
ceiling covered with 5000 muqarnas (tier after tier of stalactite-like prismatic
lofty vaults in the hall symbolizing the dome of Heaven
Mausoleum of Sultan Hasan
Sultan Hasan not an important figure in Islamic history but ambitious builder. ruled briefly as
child but deposed and regained the sultanate in 1354, assassinated in 1361
major building project in Cairo was madrasa (“place of study” in Arabic) complex,
theological college devoted to the teaching of Islamic law, held 4 of these schools and a
mosque, mausoleum, orphanage, and hospital and shops and baths.
large central courtyard, monumental fountain, 4 vaulted iwans opening onto it (a design
used earlier for Iranian mosques), madrasa with its own courtyard and 4 or 5 stories of
rooms for the students
largest iwan served as mosque
sultan’s mausoleum behind qibla wall; big version of Samanid tomb at Bukhara; dome
covered cube; south of the mosque so that prayers of the faithful facing mecca would be
directed towards Hasan’s tomb
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