When the Islamic galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened in 2011 (after eight years of renovation), it was heralded as a landmark moment for deepening American understanding of the Islamic world. Amid live performances and lectures, the museum’s 15 new galleries brought audiences into a physical world of lavish carpets, ceramics and miniature paintings. Since the Met’s Islamic revival, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London have also invested in glittering new galleries for Islamic art. And this year alone in the United States, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art each has an exhibition dedicated to the genre.
One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north Indiauntil the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.
This paper will explore the Topkapı Scroll sketch known as Catalog Number 30, the only repeat unit, that, when replicated using symmetry operations, creates an overall pattern consisting of “nearly regular” thirteen-pointed stars, regular sixteen-pointed stars as well as irregularly-shaped pentagonal stars. Since there are no known written instructions explaining how this repeat unit was generated, we set out to see if we could recreate this highly unusual design using only the simplest of Euclidean construction techniques that may have been known to, and used by, master builders during medieval times.
The Islamic world has a rich artistic tradition of creating highly geometric and symmetric ornamentation. Over the centuries, the process of creating Islamic tilings was refined from the 15th century ornamentation in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain to the exquisite tilings, which are seen in mosques, mausoleums and minarets throughout the world today. The contemporary mathematics of group theory and knot theory combined with computer programs provide tools for creating modern day variations of these historical tilings. The title of this paper is motivated by the 10th century treatise On Those Parts of Geometry Needed by Craftsmen written by the Khorasan mathematician and astronomer Abu’l-Wafā who described several constructions made with the aid of straightedge and ‘rusty compass’, a compass with a fixed angle. He was one of a long line of Islamic mathematicians who developed geometric techniques that proved useful to artisans in creating the highly symmetrical ornamentation found in architecture around the world today. In this paper, Raymond Tennant looks at the geometry of Abu’l-Wafā with an eye toward determining geometric methods for reproducing Islamic tilings with students in the classroom.
Read More: Islamic Constructions, by Raymond Tennant
For more than a millennium, Islamic artists and craftsmen have used geometric patterns to decorate buildings, cloth, pottery, and other artifacts. Many of these patterns were ‘wallpaper’ patterns — they were planar patterns that repeated in two different directions. Recently related patterns have also been drawn on the Platonic solids, which can conceptually be projected outward onto their circumscribing spheres, thus utilizing a second of the three ‘classical geometries’. In this paper, Douglas Dunham extends this process by exhibiting repeating Islamic patterns in hyperbolic geometry, the third classical geometry.
Islamic star patterns are a beautiful and highly geometric art form. Many analyses have been done of their complex structure and symmetries. In this paper, Craig S. Kaplan picks up one line of analysis based on placing stars and rosettes in a formation dictated by a tiling of the plane, and develops a software implementation of the technique. He then discusses the construction of the designs and shows some computer-generated results.
In this paper, the authors present a case study centred on the virtual restitution and virtual life simulation of a highly complex and endangered heritage edifice: the church of Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey. The paper aims to describe the techniques used in order to achieve a photo-realistic simulation of the selected space and its characters, as well as to point out the challenges and solutions that such a work implies at different stages in production. Most of these issues are mainly focused on the reconstruction of the architecture of the site, but in order to achieve an accurate simulation the social aspect must not be forgotten.
The rich history of Bangladesh has, undoubtedly, many colourful and entertaining tales to tell. And, no doubt, also many that are tragic. It is, however, difficult to find any tales with much basis in substance, especially explorations of the great mysteries that such histories as exist leave behind, once the tale is told. The real story of the defeat of Alexander; why Gangarian soldiers were fighting with the Roman Army in Asia Minor in the 1st century BCE; and, perhaps the greatest mystery of all, with deep significance through subsequent centuries, what happened to the Buddhist tradition of which there remains so much tangible evidence in the country? All, and more, lend themselves to tales of imagination and research. But few, perhaps, can offer us quite the romantic potential of the story of the demise of one of the Mughal dynasty’s most celebrated sons, and the disappearance of his treasure.
Read More: The Treasure of Shah Shuja
A place is undoubtedly emerging for Islamic material culture within the medieval Mediterranean framework: there is even a sub-discipline that has been styled the ‘Islamic Mediterranean’. This essay will not attempt a detailed historiographical review of all the recent academic output on this region, which is – suddenly – vast, but will offer some reflections on the ‘nascent field’ of what is becoming known as ‘Mediterraneanism’; next, it will examine some of the problems that still remain for the study of Islamic material culture in the Mediterranean, and suggest some ways forward.
It is safe to say that the flood of reminiscences, obituaries, and various kinds of public necrologies that have marked the death of Oleg Grabar are quite without parallel in the history of Islamic art history. They complement the numerous appreciations of him that were published in his lifetime, and indeed his own reflections on his career. In the months following his death in January 2011 a series of meetings was convened at which scholars spoke about his work, and the anniversary of his death was marked by a symposium in Istanbul to celebrate his contributions to the understanding of Turkish Islamic art. Other great figures in the field of Islamic art have had their full meed of honour, with memorial services and colloquia, and tributes from the great and the good, as well as obituaries not only in academic journals, where one would expect to find them, but also in broadsheets. But the reaction to Oleg Grabar’s death has been at once more widespread and more profound than this. The sense that an era has ended runs through many of the comments made in both public and private. The obvious question – ‘why?’ – does not have a single obvious answer. It has several, and at times they may seem to contradict each other.
Despite well-meaning and well-informed scholarly and museological intentions, Islamic art history has had limited success as a good ambassador for Islam. Rather than suggesting that it should not be expected to take on this public role and cannot responsibly make such an attempt, or that the problem should be avoided by jettisoning the term ‘Islam’ from the name ‘Islamic art history’, this paper proposes the following. First, in order to function as a critical humanistic discipline, Islamic art history must engage in a self-conscious critique of the historiographic problems of its nomenclature in relation to its own sociopolitical contexts. Second, the field should, wholeheartedly and with critical self-awareness, take on the public and political role that has been foisted upon it by sociopolitical imperatives that will be discussed below.
Regions and fields that can bring together state sponsorship, industry partners, science computing experience and resources will be at the forefront of a digital shift that reflects the world’s hierarchy of advanced industrialized nation-states and economies and their priorities. Already graduate students and researchers working in select fields can conduct large amounts of their research remotely and digitally, reducing costs for travel and archival work. Colleagues in humanities disciplines and fields of art history that successfully embark on the digital shift will be able to effortlessly scan through thousands of primary texts and images across centuries, perform statistical analyses on large pools of data, visualize complex relationships and correlations with geography and generate new genres of scholarship. Without a critical mass of systematically developed databases of historical texts, translations, and images with rigorous data quality controls and overlaying analytical tools, the way Islamic art history will be written will increasingly diverge from those fields of art history that embrace the digital shift more fully. This paper makes the case that the historiographical challenge which Islamic art historians face is not simply to consider and apply new theoretical frameworks, but to scrutinize and participate in the design and development of scholarly digital infrastructures, databases and analytical instruments specifically geared to the interests of Islamic art historians, while confronting the field’s archival legacies.
In the late 16th century the Safavid Shah Abbas I established Isfahan as the capital of his empire. He designed a plan on a monumental scale in the garden fields south of the old Saljuq center, which integrated the river Zayendehrud into the formation of the new palatial city. The orthogonal intersection of the Chahar Bagh Avenue and the river created a chahar bagh (four garden) pattern on the scale of a city, which produced a synthesis between Persian and Islamic concepts of paradise, Turkic nomadic traditions of ritual and social uses of gardens, and the principle of a royal capital city. The symbolism and figurativeness of Isfahan within the frame of a chahar bagh cannot be completely separated from traditional notions of garden and paradise, but goes beyond the allegoric interpretation of religious or mystical references to Islamic paradise, bearing distinct iconographic and deliberate political connotations of empire. This paper, by Heidi A. Walcher, is based on the hermeneutic analysis of Safavid gardens and contrasts traditional interpretations of Persian and Islamic gardens along the paradigm of paradise with an expanded definition of the political implications of paradise.
In a red world bathed in shimmering gold light, a man sits with his head in his hand as wild beasts encircle him. He is emaciated, has unkempt hair, and wears only a waistcloth — but he has a dreamy smile on his face. Nearby, a camel bears a palanquin carrying a stately woman, her head tipped to one side, arm outstretched from the window of her traveling abode toward her lover. Beneath her, the signature ‘Work of Ghiyath’ is woven in Kufic script inside an eight-pointed star on the palanquin. This depiction of the literary characters Layla and Majnun is one of a small group of figural textiles from the cache of fine luxury silks produced in Safavid Iran (1501-1722 CE). The red lampas metal-ground silk resides in the permanent collection of the Textile Museum in Washington.
Two mathematical sources, On the Geometric Constructions Necessary for the Artisan, by Abu’l-Wafa’ (ca. 940–998 CE), and the anonymous work, On Interlocks of Similar or Corresponding Figures (ca. 1300 CE), provide us with insight into the collaboration between mathematicians and artisans in the Islamic world. In this paper (published in 2000), Alpay Ozdural presents a series of quotations from these two sources, which show that mathematicians taught geometry to artisans by means of cut-and-paste methods and geometrical ﬁgures that had the potential of being used for ornamental purposes.
Read More: Mathematics and Arts, by Alpay Ozdural
In a book published in 2008, Arnold Hottinger provocatively asserted that as far as the Western stance toward Islam is concerned, Islam does not exist. He argued correctly that it is pure fiction to speak about Islam using one sole, monolithic and global term. Moreover, he added that the desire to see in the wide-ranging and diverse ‘worlds of Islam’ a homogeneous sphere called Islam is simply an abstract cognitive notion, which, as with any general concept, has its sole origin in the mind of the person who creates this concept or theory…. In this essay published in 2012, Avinoam Shalem aims to begin a discussion on the history of ‘Oriental’ art and artistic production within the critical framework of Orientalism, or, more broadly, within the framework of colonial and postcolonial studies; and, at the same time, to contribute to the ongoing vital discourse on the creation and definition of the term ‘Islamic art history’ as a scientific field within the wider discipline of art history.
In this paper, Catherine Cartwright-Jones proposes to demonstrate that women’s hand and foot markings in pictorial and literary Persian art between the late 15th century and the mid 19th are representations of henna body art, and that this interpretation of the markings is corroborated by Persian literature and traveler’s descriptions. The author proposes that the representations are idealized but plausible representations of henna, and they demonstrate the technical processes and social uses of henna art in Persia.
Computer art and Islamic art, the two largest bodies of aniconic art, share a surprising number of formal properties, two of which are explored by Laura M. Marks in this paper published in 2006. The common properties of computer art and classical Islamic art can be understood in light of moments in the history of Islamic philosophy. In these two cases, Islamic Neoplatonism and Mu’tazili atomism are shown to parallel, respectively, the logic of relations between one and inﬁnity, and the basic pixel structure, that inform some historical monuments of Islamic art as well as some contemporary works of computer art. It is suggested that these parallels are in part a result of Islamic inﬂuences on Western modernism and thus that the genealogy of computer art includes classical Islamic art and the philosophies that informed it.
Read More: Infinity and Accident, by Laura M. Marks