"History is a mirror of the past and a lesson for the present."
(Persian Proverb)

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 (661–750), 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.

Textile fragment, late 10th century; Abbasid period
Of the many diverse arts that flourished during the Abbasid period, textiles played an especially significant role in society, one that continued in subsequent periods. Textiles were ubiquitous in Islamic lands, serving as clothing, household furnishings, and portable architecture (tents). The manufacture of and trade in textiles were highly sophisticated and profitable industries that built upon Byzantine and Sasanian traditions. Often made with costly materials such as silk, and gold and silver wrapped thread and decorated with complex designs, textiles were luxury goods signifying wealth and social status. Islamic textiles were also widely exported to the West, where their prominence is underscored by their impact on European languages. Did you know that the English words "cotton" and "taffeta" derive, respectively, from Arabic and Persian?

Bowl, Iraq Ninth Century 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.

Architectural Ornament
Another city north of Baghdad, called Samarra replaced the capital for a brief period (836–892). 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.

  • The Fatimid period (10th-12th)

Fatimid period

The Fatimids evidently had a taste for meticulously fabricated goldwork and intricately carved vessels of rock crystal, a type of transparent, colorless quartz whose surface can be brilliantly burnished. The glassworking was also a highly developed art form.The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts, which made Cairo the most important cultural center in the Islamic world. Nearby, Old Cairo, known as al-Fustat, became a major center for the production of pottery, glass, and metalwork, and rock-crystal, ivory, and wood carving, textile factories run by government officials created tiraz fabrics in the name of the caliph elsewhere in the Egyptian region, especially the Nile Delta. The artwork from this period exemplifies the creativity and ingenuity of Fatimid craftsmen. The technique of lusterware on ceramic, developed originally in Iraq, was revived in Egypt and Syria. Some lusterware pieces from this period are signed by their makers, an indication of the esteem in which the craftsmen were held. Wood carving and jewelry were executed with equal skill and inventiveness. Fatimid artists created new decorative motifs and made greater use of figural forms, both human and animal. Figures were stylized but lively, while traditional vegetal and geometric decorations maintained their abstract quality. Artisans of this period revived or continued earlier techniques but gave them their own distinctive stamp.

  • The Seljuk period in Iran (11th-13th)

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.

Mina'i Bowl, late 12th-early 13th century, Persian, Seljuk The 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 matchless beauty.
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.