How do you represent something without literally re-presenting it? This has been the challenge of many Muslim artist, architects and designers who constructed visual representations of sacred ideas in the absence of representational forms. In Islam, naturalistic (graven) representations of Muhammad, the father of the faith, as well as other beings possessed with “souls”, are prohibited for fear of idolatry, the worshipping of false idols. Consequently, an intricately abstract Islamic art emerged, one that uses decorative motifs symbolically and text quite literally to represent the concept of heaven and the word of god, Allah.
We’ve studied this fear of images in the form of iconoclasm, the destruction of religious icons, in Byzantine art in the 8 th and 9 th centuries CE. However, this was a short-lived period in a Christian tradition rich in iconic representations of saints and other holy figures. With few exceptions, Islamic art has remained aniconic throughout its history, resulting in a very different aesthetic than that of the Western world.
In addition to studying Islamic art & architecture on its own terms, we’ll examine the consequences of its interaction with a Western world steeped in representational imagery of all kinds. What happens when such cultures collide? Why are Westerners seemingly so immune to critical representations of their leaders and sacred figures? Or are they? And why does the mere rumor of a critical image of the Prophet spark international protest among some Muslims? We saw this in 2005 with the Jyllands-Posten controversy when this Danish publication posted cartoons representing Muhammad (one of them above). And we saw that this year when the American-made amateur film “The Innocence of Muslims” sparked protest in the Middle East, particularly in Libya. What does it suggest about the continuing power of such images? Since these images of the Prophet were very rarely shown and only rumored to exist, many of the protesters reportedly did not ever see them? Does this suggest that prohibited and unseen images can be more powerful than ones seen? We’ll discuss that further as we examine Art Spiegelman’s essay “Drawing Blood: Outrageous Cartoon and the Art of Outrage” in the context of Islamic art.
But, first let’s take a close look at Islamic art & architecture on its own terms. Its overwhelming beauty is often overshadowed by the ugly controversies surrounding it.
Islamic Art & Architecture
Iconoclasm – the destruction of images; also the period from 726 to 843 CE when there was an imperial ban on images in the Western worldVirgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore Mihrab from the Madrasa Imami, ca.and George, icon, sixth or early seventh century 1354. Fig. 5-11.
The Fear of ImagesFrom South Park on Comedy Central Cartoon by Annette Carlsen, 2005, published in Jyllands-Posten Denmark
Islamic Art & ArchitectureDates and Places:• 7th century to present• Mecca, Medina (west coast of Arabia)• Middle East, Spain, North AfricaPeople:• Muslim followers of Prophet Muhammad• Rapid expansion of empire• Ummayads & Abbasids• Communal & private worship (facing direction of Mecca)• Imams (religious leaders)
Islamic Art & ArchitectureThemes:• Restrictions on holy images• Geometric pattern, vegetal design• Calligraphic passages from KoranForms:• Non-illusionistic• Repetition of design• Rich colors, materials• The word as symbolic motif• Tile work, mosaic, stucco Malwiya minaret, Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq, 848–852.
Architecture• Example of convergence of three religions (site sacred to Judaism, Christianity, Islam)• Syncretism (Central basilica plan, columns, colonnade) Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, 687–692.• Believed to site where prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven• Dome (wooden) has octagonal shape based on 8-point star, 75’ high, 60’ diameter• Exterior tile work (not original) like textile San Vitale, Italy• Lavish interior mosiac Pantheon, Rome, 2nd century CE 526–547 Christian symbolizing heaven
Architecture -Dome of theRock http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX6CCN8qyyk&feature=related
Architecture View and plan, Great Mosque, Kairouan, Tunisia, Africa, ca. 836–875. Fig. 5-4.
Architecture• Mosque for collective prayer• Muhammad’s house as model• Hypostyle hall (communal worship, qibla wall (facing Mecca), mihrab (niche), domes, nave (central aisle), minaret (tower to call to worship & mark location)• Maqsura for ruler• Plain exterior, lavish interior Apollodorus of Damascus, Forum of Trajan, 112CE View and plan, Great Mosque, Roman Kairouan,Tunisia, ca. 836–875. Fig. 5-4.
Architecture Prayer hall, Great Mosque, Córdoba, Spain, 8th to 10th centuries. Fig. 5-6.
Architecture• Spanish Ummayad Dynasty (Muslim ruler lower Spain)• Hypostyle hall• Double-tiered arches add height• Columns from earlier structure• Horseshoe arch, maybe Visigoth or Near Eastern Prayer hall, Great Mosque, Córdoba,• Lavish mosaics and stucco Spain, 8th to 10th centuries. Fig. 5-6.
Architecture• Palace of the caliph (successor of Muhammad) in Spain• Image of Paradise• Multilobed pointed arches• Ornamental stucco decoration ceilings (dome of Heaven)• Muquarnas (stalactite-like prismatic forms) suggest starry sky• Gardens, fountain• Ornament of calligraphy (verses from court poet) and patterns Court of the Lions, Alhambra, 1354–1391. Fig. 5-8.
Architecture Rick Steves on the Alhambrahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEseJViidy8 Hall of the Two Sisters Palace of the Lions Alhambra, Granada, Spain, 1354–1391.
Architecture View, Great Mosque, Isfahan, Iran, 11th to 17th centuries. Fig. 5-6.
Architecture• Iranian mosque type• Courtyard with two- story arcade• Four iwans (vaulted recess in wall)• Qibla iwan is largest• Dome before the mihrab View, Great Mosque, Isfahan, Iran, 11th to 17th centuries. Fig. 5-6.
Architecture Mihrab from the Madrasa Imami, ca. 1354. Fig. 5-11.
Architecture• Mihrab from madrasa (religious school) in Isfahan• Mosaic tile ornamentation• Repeating vegetal & geometric motifs• Symmetry• Calligraphy from Koran (Kufic (early stately script) in center & Muhaqqaq (cursive) in exterior frame)• Lacks figural representation of holy figures Mihrab from the Madrasa Imami, ca. 1354. Fig. 5-11.
Luxury Arts Koran page, 9th or early 10th century. Fig. 5-12.
Luxury Arts• Principle text of Islam• Kufic script (stately, associated with Kufa, center of Arabic calligraphy)• Integration of text and ornament (ink & gold)• Written from right to left (“On the Day of Judgment, the faith of Koran page, 9th or early 10th those who shall have disbelieved century. Fig. 5-12. shall not avail them. ” (from The Visual Arts: A History, p. 351))• Consonants with vowels indicated by red or yellow symbols Initial R, Moralia in Job,• Palm tree finial on far right ca. 1115– (decorative ornament 1125, French• Lacks figural representation
Luxury Arts Bihzad, Seduction of Yusuf, folio 52 verso, Bustan (Orchard) of Sultan Husayn Mayqara Afghanistan, 1488 ink and color on paper, 117/8” x 85/8”
Luxury Arts • Herat, Afghanistan center of luxurious book production • Secular art forms allow representational imagery • Narratives with human and animal forms • Bihzad most famous Persian painter • Common Christian and Islamic story by Sadi (“Seduction of Joseph”) • Zulaykha (seducer) lured Joseph through 7 rooms locking each behind, doors opened miraculously and he was freed) • Text interspersed throughout image in beige panels • Decorative merging of suggested textiles and tiled walls (2D & 3D) Shahzia Sikander, Art 21, scroll 32 minhttp://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/episode-spirituality Bihzad, Seduction of Yusuf, folio 52 verso Afghanistan, 1488
Luxury Arts MAQSUD OF KASHAN, carpet, funerary mosque of Shaykh Saﬁ al-Din, 1540. Fig. 5-14.
Luxury Arts• Rug in funerary mosque• Rugs replace wood furniture, create functional multi-purpose rooms• Wool carpet by master designer at Safavid court (25 million knots)• Heavenly dome design (medallion in center) with water and lotus blossoms• Lanterns in design (unequal in size to adjust for perspective)• Image of paradise as a garden From Magnificent 11, Victoria & Albert Museum, London go to 13 minutes MAQSUD OF KASHAN, carpet,http://www.artbabble.org/video/lacma/magnificent-11 funerary mosque of Shaykh Saﬁ al-Din, 1540., 35’x18’, Fig. 5-14.