Historical Background: The Prophet Mohammed was born in Arabia in 570 CE, at the height of the Byzantine Empire. A trader, married to a wealthy widow, he experiences a spiritual awakening in his early middle age, receiving the word of God ( Quran ) from the angel Gabriel. He begins preaching in Mecca, criticizing the wealthiest residents who benefit most from the pilgrimages made by pagan Arabs to visit the idols housed in the Kaaba , built by Abraham. He’s forced to flee from Mecca (flight known as the Hegira ) and goes to Medina, where his preaching gathers followers. Becoming both a spiritual and temporal military leader, he gathers his forces and returns to conquer Mecca in the first Holy War, in the name of Allah . He preaches submission to God, equality of all before God, strict monotheism, obedience to God's requirements: prayers facing Mecca 5x/day, fasting during Ramadan , giving alms to the poor, pilgrimage to Mecca (if possible) once during lifetime, following dietary restrictions. Islam becomes the fastest-growing religion in world history.
Human or animal figures of any kind theoretically banned
Generally in effect against large-scale representational art for public display
Ornate decorations on practical itmes (incense burners, cloth embroidery)
Heavy use in book illustration
Merging of outside/inside
No sense of true 3-D space
Development of Paper A third important reason for the Golden Age was the establishment of a paper mill (factory) in Baghdad. Paper was first invented in China and then the Muslims learned how it was made. (Actually Chinese papermakers were taken prisoner and forced to teach their captors how to make paper) Soon paper replaced parchment (the skin of animals) and papyrus (a plant made into a kind of "paper" in ancient Egypt). The development of paper made it possible for a great many people to get books and learn from them. This was an important advance which affected education and scholarship.
The Miniatures of the Zubdat Al- Tawarikh 1583
The stories of the prophets start with Adam and Eve. An interesting interpretation of this story is found in a miniature where Adam and Eve are shown with their thirteen twin children. (fig 2). As the text indicates, all of Adam's children were twins and each son had to marry the twin sister of a brother. Abel was asked by his father to wed Cane's twin sister, but Cane, whose twin happened to be the most beautiful wanted to keep her. This is how the dispute started between the two brothers. To end the dispute Adam asked both sons to make an offering to God and Abel's was accepted. This interesting version of the story is depicted in the lower left hand corner, where Cane is shown pulling the arm of his twin sister. The bushes, the symbol of Cane's offering, rest above the figures of Cane and his sister. Earlier Islamic artists, when illustrating the story of Adam and Eve, usually showed the couple in paradise but never placed them with their children, nor represented this version of the dispute between Cane and Abel. The Ottoman artist's narrative intent comes in here when he describes the story in the minutest detail and dresses his figures in sixteenth century Ottoman garments as if the theme was a local event.