The Visual Encyclopedia of Art
Edited by The Scala Group
ISBN 9781566499743 (paperback)
Published in August 2012
MSRP $24.95
An encounter with the artistic heritage of Islam is characterized by two factors that make it very special: the vast dimension of the areas involved, from Spain to Central Asia as far as China, to sub-Saharan Africa, and duration through fourteen centuries of history. Is it possible to treat such a complex and multifaceted phenomenon as a single subject? The images that follow are an answer. Within the great variety of architectural forms and materials, some constants stand out: the mosque (in both its religious and non-religious functions) and the madrasa (or koranic teaching institution); and the principal types of civic architecture: public baths (hammam), markets (suk or bazar), and caravanserais. These building types define the Muslim city and make it perfectly distinct and familiar, as such, at any latitude. Islam makes a strong distinction between public art (decidedly abstract) and private art where figurative art, far from disappearing, occupies a fully legitimate position with a vigor that is sometimes unexpected. The religious dictates—despite the fact that the Koran never explicitly refers to art—are linked to the rigid monotheistic credo and the inexhaustible creative activity of Allah, transformed into decorations that are often modular and are repeated without a beginning or an end. The most representative art is certainly calligraphy, with its numerous graphic variations, all of which have great visual impact. The ceramics offer an extraordinary range of shapes and amazing colors, the metalwork with damascening of precious materials show an unequaled taste for subtle detail, the refined textiles almost constitute a separate art, and the carpets, which although not a prerogative of Islam alone, well illustrate unending design diversity. This very rich artistic culture is anything but monotonous.