"History is a mirror of the past and a lesson for the present."
Islam began in early seventh century in Arabia and quickly spread throughout
the Middle East. Before the following century Islam had already spread to Byzantium,
Persia, Africa, Europe and some parts of Asia, where many people converted to
Islam. In its first thousand years, from the revelations to the Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh) to the great Islamic empires of the eighteenth, Islamic civilization
flourished. While Europeans suffered through the Dark Ages, Muslims in such
cities as Jerusalem, Damascus, Alexandria, Fez, Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad made
remarkable advances in philosophy, science, medicine, literature, and art. The
uniting of so many diverse cultures under one religion had the advantage of
quickly disseminating the latest and best discoveries to all parts of the realm.
Paper making from China, "Arabic" numerals from India, classical Greek
science and philosophy translations, and significant contributions in chemistry,
physics and mathematics were all shared. All these diverse influences encouraged
a new civilization to emerge which would generate a new form of cultural expression
and new artistic styles.
I) Islamic Art (7th to mid-13th)
Under the Abbasid caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads (661750), the focal point of Islamic political and cultural life shifted eastward from Syria to Iraq, where, in 762, Baghdad, the circular City of Peace (madinat al-salam), was founded as the new capital. The first two centuries of Abbasid rule saw the emergence and dissemination of a new Islamic style of art where purely Islamic forms and new techniques were introduced.Textiles
The art of pottery was greatly advanced in the ninth century with the development of the technique of luster painting. Luster painting is a spectacular means of decorating pottery, perhaps in imitation of precious metal, which was first developed in Iraq and subsequently spread to Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Spain. The production of luster-decorated pottery was complicated, costly, and time-consuming, indicating that such objects were regarded as luxury wares. Lusterware can vary in color from a rich gold to a deep reddish brown.
Another city north of Baghdad, called Samarra replaced the capital for a brief period (836892). The site of Samarra is particularly significant for understanding the art and architecture of the Abbasid period. In this new capital, a new way of carving surfaces, the so-called beveled style, as well as a repetition of abstract geometric or pseudo-vegetal forms, later to be known in the West as "arabesque", were widely used as wall decoration and became popular in other media such as wood and metalwork.The architectural ornament, rendered in stucco, wood, or stone is one of the most important arts of the ninth century. This style was soon adopted by artists in many parts of the Islamic empire, including Egypt. Wood on account of its rarity and cost, was decorated with care and used in contexts generally reserved for luxury materials.
By the mid-ninth century Abbasid political unity had begun to crumble, and by the tenth century Abbasid authority was effectively limited to Iraq. Elsewhere in the Islamic world a series of dynasties in Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and Iran fostered the development of indigenous styles of Islamic art.
In the eleventh century the Seljuks briefly ruled over a vast empire that included
all of Iran, the Fertile Crescent, and most of Anatolia, or Turkey. By the end
of the century, however, this empire had disintegrated into smaller kingdoms
ruled by different branches of the Seljuk house. Like the Ghaznavids, these
ethnic Turks embraced Persian culture and adopted the Persian language.Turkish
rule in Asia Minor was initiated under the Saljuqs following their victory over
the Byzantine army in eastern Anatolia in 1071. This important event paved the
way for the gradual introduction of Islam and Turkish culture into Anatolia.
The Saljuq sultanate of Rum (that is, Byzantium) endured until the beginning
of the fourteenth century, although from the mid-thirteenth century the Saljuqs
served merely as governors under the Mongols.
Seljuks, Central Asiatic tribesmen, entered the Islamic world at the beginning
of the 11th century. A few decades later they occupied the whole of Iran. A
branch called the Seljuks of Rum moved west to settle in Asia Minor (now Turkey).
From the 11th century until the coming of the Mongols in the early 13th, the
Seljuks ushered in a period of relative peace in which all the arts flourished
under their patronage. The Seljuk period is one of the most creatively exciting
in the history of Islamic art. Although of humble nomadic beginnings, the Seljuks,
once settled, commissioned buildings of majestic proportions and objects of
In their desire to imitate contemporary Chinese Song ceramics, the Seljuks were responsible for the most important innovation in early medieval Islamic pottery. They rediscovered a frit body of clay, quartz, and potash, an ancient Egyptian invention which permitted a variety of color and decoration. Also under the Seljulk rule the great periods of Islamic metalworking occured.
The earliest known distinctive style of Persian painting dates back to the Seljuk period, which is often referred to as the "Baghdad School". Early painting was mainly used to decorate manuscripts and versions of the Holy Koran, though some 13th century pottery found near Tehran indicates an early, unique Persian style of art. During the Mongol period, paintings were used to decorate all sorts of books.