The Art and Architecture in Islam

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The architecture and art of the Islamic world is crucial to understanding Islam. The art of the Islamic world is restricted by the prevailing religion of the time Islam. Despite these restrictions art was still created.

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An example of art is pottery and Charles Wilkinson’s essay goes over pottery. One of the other practicalities to apply art is architecture. The geometric patterns among the architecture are unique to this time period in their number. The applications of architecture can be seen in mosques, the Dome of Rock and Topkapi Palace. Mosques are sourced from the textbook written by Rebold Benton. Islam has an article on the Dome of Rock and Wanda Reif wrote a brief on the Topkapi Palace.

Mosques often had a rectangular floor-plan (Benton 222 Figure 6.2) which was adopted due to it being easier to produce mosques en mass this way. The mosque would have a minaret, a type of tower that is usually built in these structures or in their walls (Benton 221). A muezzin was the person who climbed the spiral staircase of minaret to direct prayer (Benton 221). Inside the mosque, the mihrab, which is a small room with a part outside the mosque’s walls. This room is designed to face Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad (Benton 221). The mihrab entrance does not contain a door (Benton Figure 6.2). Based on that, we can assume this room is always open. The columns are numerous, you can’t walk three feet straight without walking into one or passing it by (Benton 221 Figure 6.3). If a mosque has a court which contains a fountain within its center. The fountain was used for purification and for special events (Benton 221). Some mosques are surrounded by a forest like the mosque of Sultan Sula(e)yman, Istanbul. (Benton 223 Figure 6.4). The forest area was likely chosen perhaps for the prayers to be conducted in peace, away from the noise of the city.

One example of a mosque is the Mosque of Cordova in Spain which has arches that are painted as orange and tan stripes (Benton 222 Figure 6.3). Arches were created by voussoirs which are defined as “wedge-shaped stones that make up the arches” (Benton 222). The mosque was started in 786 and has been enlarged four times since (Benton 221 Figure 6.2). This is testament to the Islamic world’s beliefs that usability is prioritized before historical significance is taken into account. The mosque also contains multiple halls and arcades (Benton 221).
Islamic inspired architecture is not limited to religious buildings. One of their greatest non-religious buildings is known as the Alhambra Palace. The palace was constructed in Granada, Spain between the years of 1354 C.E. and 1391 C.E. (Benton 225). The palace was created during the Nasirid dynasty, the last Islamic leadership to rule southern Spain (Benton 225). Because it was built on a mountaintop, this resulted in a lower temperature. (Benton 225). This palace is known for breaking the established norms of Islamic architecture by creating sculptures, like the Court of Lions. Statues and sculptures were condemned by the Qur’an as work of the Devil (Benton 226). A possible reason why these statues were constructed is that it was the will of a political ruler and the location is far away from the center of Islam’s influence.

The Topkapi Palace is another non-religious building like the Alhambra Palace. The palace was large, at its peak it had around 4000 people (Benton 226). The palace included people loosely related to the ruler in order to have a high number. This was unlike the Alhambra Palace which only included the immediate family of the ruler. As Reif explains, “This sprawling complex of low-rise buildings and gardens served as the residence…” (261). This quote implies the reason for this could be that mosques want to be seen from afar and were to be used to attract possible converts.However political buildings would not want to be seen in the midst of war as they would be heavily targeted by enemies. The leader, Mehmed II, hired only Muslims and “…sponsored the realm’s pre-eminent artists and craftsmen as full-time residents of the Palace.” (Reif 261). Mehmed II’s political status allowed him to obtain artist who would create art that would have been considered forbidden.

The Dome of Rock is a one of the most famous structures in Jerusalem. This building is not considered a mosque however it is still used for religious purposes. The building has a different floor plan than most mosques. The floor plan is octagonal rather than rectangular (Islam 110 Fig I). As its name suggests the Dome of Rock has a large dome on the top of the structure (Islam 110 Fig I). It got the name due to the building containing a rock which is sacred to the three Abrahamic religions (Islam 109). The rock is at the center (Islam 110 Fig I). Islam’s paper investigates reasons why the Dome of Rock may have been created. One of these reasons mentioned is it was a structure used to complete with the Christian churches at the time (Islam 113). Due to the mosques being simpler in design, the Muslims wanted to create a grander structure. In fact, the Bosra Cathedral was almost like the Dome of Rock’s floor plan (Islam 115 Figure 5). The paper also says that, “…significant aspect of similarity between the design of the Dome of Rock and those of the Roman/Byzantine building suggested as having influenced its design is in the area of the rotunda…” (Islam 116). The rotunda is what they call the columns supporting the dome. However, while the Dome of Rock does have some similarities to other buildings, there was some aspects original to this building. Some key differences, as pointed out by Islam, are, “…unusual height of the central cylinder…the perimeter wall…heavy interior structural elements supporting the drum/dome…the absence of a single main entrance…” (Islam 117). The structural integrity of the walls is an important part of Islamic architecture. Its grander may be the reason for its immense fame. The absence of a main entrance is common in the design of mosques where the goal is to get people in and out as quickly as possible. This was a similarity between a mosque and the Dome of Rock, possibly for the same purpose.

Art may have been restricted in Islamic society but was often presented “private” or “personal” goods that served a function such as pottery due to it being less restricted. Pottery was freed of the restriction of not being able to depict animals or people as condemned by Muhammad (Benton 226). Wilkinson stated that “By the addition of copper it was tinted a clear green; from chrome and antimony two different hue of yellow could be produced, and a third, more brownish color, could be achieved from iron. Blacks were obtained from manganese…” (Wilkinson 100). The range of color in pottery was therefore quite large. The relationship between the color and design is said to be, “…if one is well acquainted with this pottery to know the color even if one is only shown a black and white photograph” (Wilkinson 100). Pottery makers and their types of pottery may have been more easily recognizable due to this fact. Today there is a copyright system for most types of arts but during this period, in Persia there was no such thing. There was, “… (an) absence of ‘borrowing’ by a group of potters who made one ware from a group making another ware…” (Wilkinson 100) despite the lack of rules and regulations relating to copying other’s works. The geometric patterns of the pottery were shared with the ones on Islamic architecture. (Wilkinson 100-101 Figure 1 & Figure 2).
In conclusion, Islamic architecture even with the limits imposed was diverse and bountiful. Public art in Islamic society was rarely created however private art was very popular amongst the people of Islam. The influence of Islamic art and architecture can be seen in modern buildings such as the dome on the Capitol building seeming to take inspiration from the Dome of Rock. Their influence should not to be underestimated because of how far the religion and culture have spread.

Works Cited

“Islamic Civilization.” Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, by Janetta Rebold Benton and Robert DiYanni, Prentice Hall, 2012, pp. 215–239.
Islam, M. A., & Al-Hamad, Z. F. (2007). The Dome of the Rock: Origin of its Octagonal Plan. Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 139(2), 109-128. doi:10.1179/003103207×194145 Web. November 5, 2018
Charles K. Wilkinson. “Fashion and Technique in Persian Pottery.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, no. 3, 1947, p. 99-104. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/3257274. Web. November 2, 2018
Reif, Wanda. “The Magnificence of the Topkapi Palace.” Lancet, vol. 356, no. 9225, July 2000, p. 261. EBSCOhost. Web. November 25, 2018

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