National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

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Abu'l Abbas
Accompanied by ambassadors, this elephant was shipped from North Africa to Pisa, crossed the Alps, arrived at Charlemagne's court in Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in about 801, and marvelously survived in western Germany until 810. He was named after the first caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, for which elephants became symbols of royal power and pleasure. When the Byzantine emperor's ambassadors visited Caliph Al-Muktadir in 917, they visited the palace for wild beasts in the royal compound in Baghdad and saw four trained elephants dressed in silk brocade and bearing Indian riders.

After the Umayyad regime in Damascus was toppled by those in favor of restoring power to the family of the Prophet, Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah (r. 749-754) claimed caliphal authority as a descendant of Muhammad's uncle Abbas and moved the capital east to Iraq. The second caliph, al-Mansur (r. 755-775), built a magnificent new capital at Baghdad, consisting of a huge circular city that became an international political, intellectual, and artistic center. Under royal patronage, science, philosophy, and the arts flourished, and Greek and Roman knowledge was preserved in Arabic translation. The brilliant and luxurious culture of Baghdad and another huge capital at Samarra from 836 to 883 was emulated throughout the Islamic world. Although in the tenth-century rival caliphates were established in Spain (the Umayyads) and in North Africa (the Fatimids, who soon moved to Egypt), the Abbasids maintained power in Baghdad until conquered by the Mongols in 1258.

This type of ornament is composed of organically linked tendrils and stylized leaves that wind and twine. Characteristically, they have sinuous rolling lines, fantastically varied leaf forms, and often bifurcate and roll back on themselves. Symmetry is carefully observed in the manipulation of motifs. The compositions can extend infinitely or have inward-turning edges creating units. The style of Islamic arabesques varied geographically and over time. The term probably derives from the Italian word rabesche, used during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for both Islamic ornament and Italian versions of it.

Blue-and-white porcelain
This porcelain was first produced in the early fourteenth century during the Mongol Yuan dynasty. For centuries, white porcelain had been made from a body of white kaolin clay, pulverized china stone, and quartz, which was then covered with a glaze of similar elements. When fired at high temperatures, the body vitrified, rendering it translucent, and fused with the glaze, leaving no visible boundary between them. The decoration in blue from Persian cobalt ore was painted on top of an underglaze, then fired under a transparent glaze that acted as a varnish. Islamic ceramics, which had first been painted in cobalt blue on a simpler clay body in the ninth century, inspired the combination, and the shapes of many Yuan blue-and-white pieces also echoed Islamic metalwork. Persian merchants living on the coasts of China facilitated the trade in cobalt and finished wares. Though much of the early blue-and-white was made for export to the Islamic world, pieces similar in shape and scale that have surfaced in China and Mongolia indicate that the Mongols used it too. Recipes for spicy Turkish and Persian stews in a dietary manual given to the Mongol emperor in 1330 suggest that large serving dishes were needed.

The first European tooled-leather bookbindings were made in Florence in about the 1430s, imitating the techniques and decoration of contemporary Egyptian and Syrian book covers. For several decades, motifs were simply impressed into fine, tanned leather with small metal tools bearing carved designs, or design units, which could be repeated and varied to build a composition. By the 1460s, binders in several Italian cities were tooling in gold in the Islamic manner, by pressing gold leaf into the leather with heated metal tools. Italians learned the Ottoman technique of impressing large designs and compositions with a block stamp during the early sixteenth century. All of these techniques were used in the French bookbindings that must have inspired the makers of the Saint Porchaire ceramics.

Cardinal Bandinello Sauli (d. 1518)
The Sauli family emigrated to Genoa from Lucca in 1316, when it was the foremost Italian silk-weaving center, in order to escape factional fighting. The family prospered in Genoa as silk merchants, becoming rich and sufficiently powerful to enter the nobility in 1528. Bandinello Sauli was named cardinal in 1511 by Pope Julius II, and played a prominent role in the election of Pope Leo X in 1513. In 1517, Sauli was among six cardinals arrested for plotting to poison Pope Leo, a conspiracy that, in fact, may never have existed. Sauli was forced to confess publicly and was among the four cardinals eventually pardoned after paying substantial fines. The portrait painted shortly before his disgrace was sent to his family in Genoa after his death.

Charlemagne (c. 742-814)
As king of the Franks from 786 and of the Lombards from 774, Charlemagne united by conquest most of Western Europe, which he ruled as emperor with papal sanction from 800. In 799, he sent ambassadors bearing gifts to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the hope of obtaining jurisdiction over the Holy Sepulchre, the church built at the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial. After the caliph conceded nominal jurisdiction of the shrine in Jerusalem and sent marvelous gifts, Charlemagne sent in return Spanish horses and mules, cloaks from the North Sea region, and dogs for hunting lions and tigers. These diplomatic exchanges were memorialized in biographies of Charlemagne written by Einhard the Frank in 829-836, and by Notker the Stammerer in about 884. All of the objects in European church treasuries and museums that have been associated with the caliph's gifts to Charlemagne were actually made at a later date.

Cloud bands
In Chinese art, these stylized motifs were used as a symbol of the heavens, and as pure decoration. They appear in single curved shapes, or in a series of reversing curves, such as the examples in blue on this carpet's central medallion. By means of textiles and other luxury objects, the motif traveled westward through the Mongol empire to the Islamic world during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and then to Italy during the fifteenth. Cloud bands are prominent in Ottoman ornament from the late fifteenth century onward.

The Crusades
This is the contemporary term for the series of European military expeditions, usually numbered at eight, to regain Christian control of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and other sacred shrines in Palestine, which had come under Muslim rule in 638. Launched by Pope Urban II's call to arms in 1095 at a church council meeting in Clermont, France, the First Crusade embarked from Bari, Italy, in 1098 and seized Jerusalem in 1099. Of the small principalities established under various European rulers, the county of Edessa between the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers was the first to fall in 1140 to Zangi, the founder of the Seljuk Zangid dynasty in northern Mesopotamia (1127-1222), followed by the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Syria and Egypt (1169-1260). The Europeans retained a narrow strip of the Syrian and Palestinian coast, which acquired increasing commercial importance, until the forces of the new Mamluk sultans in Cairo (1250-1517) recaptured Antioch in 1268, Tripoli in 1289, and Acre in 1291.

Emperor Xuande (r. 1426-1435)
The discovery of a native Chinese cobalt that raised the quality of blue-and-white porcelain led to its imperial acceptance. Under Emperor Xuande, blue-and-white began to be produced expressly for the palace in the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. The number of imperial kilns had increased from twenty at the beginning of the Ming dynasty to fifty-eight, in order to produce the huge quantities of various types of porcelain needed for both the court and Xuande's tribute exchanges with foreign rulers. In addition to blue-and-white, the exports included pale green celadon, which was reputed to crackle and break on contact with poison, white porcelain, and delicate, thin-walled bluish or greenish Qingbai.

The practice of employing emasculated males, usually slaves, in domestic service to guarantee the integrity of the bloodline dates back to antiquity. It was especially conspicuous and long-lived in the Islamic world and in China, where eunuchs guarded and served the women's quarters, the royal bedchamber, and also rose to bureaucratic positions of great prestige and power. For example, four thousand white and three thousand black eunuchs were reported to be serving the royal compound in Baghdad during the reign of Caliph Al-Muktadir (r. 908-932). The Ming emperor Yongle (r. 1403-1424) appointed eunuchs as ambassadors, because they knew foreign languages and customs as a result of being captured in frontier regions as youths. The admiral of the Ming treasure fleet was a eunuch, and eunuchs also controlled the private-trade luxury goods the fleet brought back to China. Eunuchs served the Ottoman emperors into the early twentieth century.

The sport of hunting game with trained falcons and other hawks dates back to ancient Assyria and acquired great sophistication in the medieval Islamic world, where instructional manuals were written. Falconers commonly appeared among the princely pleasures represented in the decoration of Islamic objects intended for secular use. During the Crusades, falconry was introduced in Europe, where it flourished among the privileged classes. A bird taken from the nest before it can fly is trained to kill selected quarry by being hooded and fed fresh meat while tied to a board or block. It is then carried on a heavily gloved wrist several hours a day, stroked with a feather, and fed. When it will eat from the wrist without a hood, it is trained to attack a baited lure, so that the bird will learn to kill the quarry in the air or bring it to the ground, piercing the vital organs with its talons.

Francesco Pellegrino (d. 1552?)
Little is known about the artist whose sixty woodcuts of Islamic-style ornament were published as a pattern book in Paris in 1530. Of Florentine origin, he was summoned to France by King Francis I in about 1526 to 1528, and collaborated with his compatriot Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540) on the mannerist style stuccos and paintings in the Grand Gallery of the royal palace at Fontainbleau. Pellegrino's ornament is closer to that found on early sixteenth-century Venetian bookbindings and brassware than to genuine Islamic art. Only one copy of his pattern book survives (Bibliotheque d'Arsenal, Paris), probably because it was intended for workshop use. As in other sixteenth-century European pattern books, there is no attempt to identify specific Islamic designs or their origins; rather a single term—usually either "arabesque" or "moresque"—is applied to a variety of styles. The artists may have worked from or even reworked Islamic stamped designs, embroidery patterns, or templates from the Islamic world, as well as from imported objects. The strong eclectic character and the many departures from Islamic norms in the European pattern books show that the artists interpreted their models freehand.

The only giraffe recorded in Italy before the Renaissance was the one paraded, together with elephants bearing torches, through the streets of Rome when Julius Caesar returned from Africa in 46 B.C. The animals symbolized Caesar's exceptional power and also provided entertainment for the populace. During the fifteenth century giraffes became the rare exotic gift par excellence. Traveling to Samarkand about 1403, Clavijo, the ambassador of King Henry III of Castille and Leon, was astonished to meet other ambassadors who were bringing a giraffe and several ostriches from the Mamluk sultan Faraj (r. 1399-1405) to Timur (Tamerlane, 1336?-1405), the ruler of Persia and Central Asia. The giraffe presented to the Chinese emperor Yongle in 1414 was heralded as a quilin, the mythical spotted unicorn whose rare appearances were highly auspicious. The animal had been given by the ruler of Malinoli (Kenya) to the new king of Bengal, who consigned it to the Ming naval expedition. Reports of the emperor's pride and pleasure elicited another giraffe from the Rasulid sultan in Aden, which arrived in 1419, and an amazing five more from different Arab rulers for emperor Xuande in 1433.

From classical Roman accounts of Caesar's triumphs, Florentines would have recognized Lorenzo's giraffe as a symbol of power. But Qa'itbay may have intended it also to convey wishes of good fortune.

These are the tribal symbols that the Turkic peoples of the Asian steppes used to mark property and communicate ideas. Some are stylized animate motifs, such as a bird of prey symbolizing a guardian spirit. Others are geometric motifs such as hexagons, octagons, and medallions, whose meaning is now obscure. Both types appear on early Turkish carpets. The geometric guls are easy to memorize and weave as carpet patterns.

Harun al-Rashid
This fifth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty (r. 786-809) ruled at the peak of the dynasty's imperial power. The fabulous luxury and conspicuous consumption at Harun's court in Baghdad and at his new capital at Raqqa in northern Mesopotamia (now Syria), occupied from 796 to 808, were memorialized in the tales of the Thousand and One Nights. The gifts sent to Charlemagne in about 801 and in 807, which typified the natural and man-made wonders of the east included unguents, spices, monkeys, candelabra, and an automatic water-clock. The twenty pieces of Chinese porcelain and stoneware that Harun received as a diplomatic gift from his governor in Khurasan were among the first to arrive in the Islamic world. Admiration for these and later Chinese imports at the Abbasid court, and the desire to imitate them, sparked the great technical discoveries in Iraq between about 820 and 850 that revolutionized earthenware ceramics.

Imperial kilns
At Jingdezhen, the foremost production center for Chinese porcelain, there were two types of manufactories. In the heart of the city were the officially controlled, imperial kilns. Popular kilns producing for other private patrons and for commercial sale domestically and abroad were located in the vicinity. Official manufactories had been established in 1278 by Khubilai Khan, who commissioned white wares that the Mongols considered to be auspicious. Blue-and-white was produced in both imperial and popular manufactories from the fourteenth century, though it probably originated in the popular kilns, which continued to produce most of it. The highest quality blue-and-white using Chinese cobalt was made in the imperial kilns.

Islamic art
A term that can be understood in several ways, all of which are equally valid: each simply emphasizes different features of an enormous body of material. Some definitions concentrate on the religious aspects of this art, giving pride of place to mosque architecture and calligraphy, especially that found in manuscripts of the Holy Qur'an. Palace and Mosque takes a broader view of the subject, treating Islamic art as the product of a culture in which not everyone was Muslim but in which Islam played a dominant role. It therefore encompasses all the art produced in the Muslim-ruled states of the Middle East and beyond, no matter what its particular social context may have been.

The time frame of Islamic art is also very broad, and its beginning and end are marked by two great events. The first of these was, of course, the rise of Islam in the seventh century A.D., and the simultaneous founding of the first Muslim-ruled state. Thereafter Islamic states succeeded one another in the Middle East until the end of the First World War in 1918, when the Allies occupied much of the defeated Ottoman Empire. This, the second of the two events, was soon followed by the deposition of the last Ottoman sultan in 1922, and the fall of the Qajar dynasty in Iran in 1924. Most of the new regimes that emerged from these changes eschewed Islam as a political system.

Over the course of the long Islamic period, the ruling elite of caliphs, emirs, shahs, sultans, and viziers set the style in every aspect of civilized life, including artistic production. Their ability to mould the character of Islamic art was all the greater in the absence of a priesthood, for which there is no real equivalent in Islam. It is for this reason that Islamic art reflects a sophisticated court milieu, where such apparently un-Islamic activities as astrology, dancing to music, and drinking wine took place. Nor were the people who commissioned, designed and made this art all Muslims, since most Islamic states had significant Christian and other religious minorities who participated in many aspects of Islamic cultural life. 1

Islamic Spain (711-1492)
In 711, North African allies of the Umayyad dynasty in Syria conquered the Visigoths ruling Spain, establishing what came to be known in Arabic as al-Andalus (Andalusia in English), with the capital at Córdoba. An independent state was formed by the Umayyad prince 'Abd al-Rahman (r. 756-788) after he escaped the Abbasid massacre of his family in Damascus. When his descendant 'Abd al-Rahman III (r. 912-961) declared himself caliph in the tenth century, Córdoba had become one of the wealthiest and most culturally rich cities of the medieval world. For nearly a century after the fall of the caliphate in 1009, this high culture was maintained in the courts of approximately sixty small city-states known as the taifa kingdoms. They were increasingly weakened by shifting alliances and the Christian reconquest led by Alfonso VI (r. Leon 1065-1109, Castile and Leon 1072-1109). Andalusia was reunited under the religiously conservative Almoravid (1094-1165) and Almohad (1165-1224) rulers who were Berbers from North Africa. After the Almohads were defeated by Alfonso VIII of Castille (r. 1158-1214) in 1212, only the Nasrids ruling Granada (1232-1492) offered much resistance to the expanding and coalescing Christian states. Ferdinand II of Aragon's conquest of Granada in 1492 marked the end of Islamic Spain. Convivencia, the cohabitation of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, which had been notably peaceful into the taifa period (1010-1094), became increasingly tense thereafter. The Almoravids and Almohads exiled many Jews and Christians, and Christian pressure on both Muslims and Jews to convert mounted during the fourteenth century. After 1492 the spiritual reconquest of Spain turned harsh: the Jews were expelled, and the Inquisition prevailed.

Iznik ceramics
In the 1470s, the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451-1481) sponsored—at great expense—a new ceramics industry at Iznik, in northwestern Anatolia, that developed a technically and visually unique fritware. Like ceramics made in Persia by the mid-twelfth century, the body consisted of quartz from sand or finely ground pebbles, to which a small amount of fine white clay and a glassy substance called frit were added. The resulting plastic clay could be molded into a wide range of shapes and fired at low temperatures. The body's whiteness was enhanced by a smooth white slip, on which clearly drawn decoration was painted in brilliant colors, all enhanced by a flawless and brilliant glaze. Initially painted in cobalt blue that imitated Chinese porcelain, the palette was expanded beginning in the 1520s. In the mid-1530s, the white background began to be treated as a backdrop for an increasing variety of decoration, culminating in the naturalistic floral style, that peaked in the 1580s. In the 1550s, the focus of production shifted to tiles for architectural decoration. Declining royal patronage and price controls led to a decline in the quality of Iznik ceramics in the seventeenth century.

The book of Judith is an apocryphal work that was included in the Septuagint, the early Greek version of the Hebrew bible, and has been accepted in the Roman Catholic canon. It was excluded, however, from the Hebrew and Protestant canons. There are numerous historical and geographical errors in the story.

Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492)
Like his grandfather Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464) and his father Piero (1416-1469), Lorenzo wielded great political power even though he never held high office in Florence's republican government. His preeminence earned him the title of respect "the Magnificent." Later this term was extended to also refer to Lorenzo's achievements as a poet, collector, and patron of the arts, letters, and humanist studies, which made him an influential tastemaker. In 1478, he survived an assassination attempt to become internationally recognized as the leader of Florence. In the interests of his city and his family, he conducted personal diplomacy with Italian and foreign rulers, depleting his fortune in princely entertainment and gift-giving. In 1487, ambassadors sent by the Mamluk sultan Qa'itbay (r. 1468-1496) to promote trade with Florence presented Lorenzo with gifts worthy of a king: rich textiles, Chinese porcelain, luster-painted ceramics from Valencia, Spain, rare spices and aromatics, and exotic animals.

The Mamluks
Although mamluk means "owned, possessed," the term indicates political privilege rather than social ignominy, and it designates a political system rather than a single dynasty. During the Abbasid period it became normal for the ruler to recruit his household troops from outside the Islamic world, often from the Turkish lands of Central Asia, since they could be trained as soldiers from childhood and had allegiance only to the ruler. Nevertheless, their role as military strongmen gave these men access to power when their masters faltered, and in 1250, after the branch of the Ayyubid dynasty ruling in Egypt had failed to supply a male heir, the sultanate passed to a royal mamluk. Mamluk sultans were succeeded either by their sons or by a mamluk who had proved his military prowess or political wiliness. This system continued to supply rulers until the Ottoman conquest in 1517, which it survived, providing administrators at a lower level until 1811. 1

Located in western Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the holiest city of Islam. The Al-Haram Mosque, also known as the Noble Sanctuary, with the cube-shaped stone building called the Ka 'bah at the center, is the focus of the pilgrimage that Muslims attempt to make at least once during their lifetime. Throughout the world, Muslims face Mecca when praying. Mecca is also the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (c. 570). In 622, he and his followers were forced to flee to Medina, an event known as the Hijirah, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Though Muhammad returned to Mecca in 630 to take control, purge the Ka 'bah of idols and declare it a center of pilgrimage, he continued to live in Medina until his death in 632. He was buried in his domestic compound, which also served as a prayer hall.

The Medici grand dukes
The descendants of Lorenzo the Elder (1395-1440) came to power in 1537, replacing the descendants of his older brother Cosimo after his last legitimate heir Lorenzino assassinated Alessandro, who had been appointed hereditary duke of Florence in 1530 by the German emperor Charles V. Lorenzo's last legitimate heir, eighteen-year-old Cosimo, persuaded the Florentine senators to elect him duke, to exclude the older branch of the family from the succession, and in 1569, to name him Grand Duke. Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-1574) and his successors perpetuated the family's traditional patronage of the arts and sciences. His son Francesco (1541-1587) was particularly interested in alchemy and established a porcelain factory, which continued operation under his brother Ferdinand I (1549-1601). The family ruled the province of Tuscany until 1737.

Mehmed II (r. 1451-1481)
Mehmed inherited the rule of the Anatolian and Balkan territories conquered by the Osmanli Turks (called the Ottomans in Europe) over the course of one hundred and fifty years. His capture of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the thousand-year-old Byzantine empire and established a new Muslim empire in the eastern Mediterranean. Reports of his ambition to capture Rome and raise the Ottoman banner over the churches of Europe soon circulated, earning him the epithets Mehmed the Conqueror, the Great Turk, and the Terror of Christendom. He did extend the empire into Bosnia and Albania, threatened Hungary, and completed the conquest of Anatolia.

Despite Muslim strictures on figural imagery, especially in sculptural and naturalistic form, Mehmed repeatedly invited Italian artists to Istanbul (the new name for Constantinople) to make portrait medals of him in a Renaissance style. His surviving childhood sketchbook shows an early fascination with naturalistic representation and the profile busts on ancient Mediterranean coins. Later he employed Greek and Italian tutors to instruct him on ancient and modern history and heroes, focusing on military strategy, power politics, and imperial imagery. While Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) was his foremost historical model, an apt visual model was Pisanello's famous medal of the penultimate Byzantine emperor, John VIII Paleologus (r.1425-1448).

Mehmed requested artists' services through his diplomatic contacts with European rulers who curried his favor. An attempt to recruit the leading medalist Matteo de' Pasti (c. 1420-1467) from Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini (1417-1468) in 1461 failed due to Venetian interference. Three subsequent appeals to Naples, Venice, and Florence succeeded, all represented in the Gallery's collection.

The ancient practice of maintaining a royal zoo of exotic animals survived magnificently in the medieval Islamic world. The Abbasid caliphs had large outdoor zoos at Samarra (831-892) and Baghdad, where there was also a palace for wild beasts that in 917 reportedly housed one hundred chained lions. Three Florentine pilgrims visiting Cairo in 1384 were astonished to see the Mamluk sultan Barquq's (r. 1382-1389) elephants and giraffes in the city.

Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
After defeating the Mongols, the native Chinese Ming emperors focused on restoring traditional values and maintaining internal stability. Because contact with foreigners was considered inherently threatening, trade and travel outside China was officially forbidden for most of the period. Between 1405 and 1433, however, a navy of giant junks made seven voyages through the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea to capture huge quantities of exotic riches in return for gifts of Chinese luxury goods. Rather than commercial trade, these were tribute exchanges between the emperors Yongle (r. 1403-1424) and Xuande (r. 1426-1435) and foreign rulers considered vassals. The need to stock the treasure fleet contributed to the contemporary expansion of the Chinese porcelain industry.

Mongol Empire (1206-1368)
The empire was founded by Chinggis Khan, who rose within a confederation of nomadic tribes native to Mongolia to become supreme ruler in 1206 and conquered the territory between Beijing and Bukhara before his death in 1227. His son and successor Ogodei (r. 1229-1241) swept northwest through Russia to threaten Hungary and Poland. A grandson, Hulegu (r. 1256-1265), advanced southwest through Persia and Mesopotamia to the upper Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, establishing the Ilkhanate. Hulegu's brother Khubilai, who became Great Khan (r. 1260-1294), completed the conquest of China, establishing the Yuan dynasty in 1291. For nearly a century, this vast empire was safe for merchants and travelers of any religion or origin, the period of the so-called Pax Mongolica. The practice of sparing craftsmen from the sword and distributing them as booty led to the creation of new workshops in which Muslim, Chinese, and even some European artisans worked side-by-side, resulting in a rich blend of different artistic traditions. The successors to the conquerors began to lose control of the western regions during the 1330s, and in 1368 the Mongols lost the Yuan empire in China to the native Mings.

Mongol khanates
Though the sons and grandsons of Chinggis Khan (r. 1206-1227) continued to expand the vast Asian empire he had founded, the central power he had exercised as Great Khan gradually fragmented due to internal rivalries. Under his grandson Khubilai Khan (r. 1260-1294), who completed the conquest of China and became the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty there (1271-1368), separate vassal states emerged: the Golden Horde or Kipchak Khanate in Russia, the Chaghadai Khanate in Central Asia, and the Ilkhanate in Persia and Mesopotamia. The establishment of the last by Khubilai's brother Hulegu (r. 1256-1265), particularly his conquest of the Abbasid empire in Mesopotamia in 1258, opened up the entire Mongol empire to Europeans. Travel in western Asia became increasingly unsafe during the disorder that followed the death of Hulegu's descendant Abu Said without an heir in 1335. The Ilkhanate ended with the murder of an elected ruler in 1353.

The European term derives from the Latin word Mauri, which referred to the inhabitants of the Roman province of Mauritania (western Algeria and northeastern Morocco). The name came to designate the Muslim population of Spain that created the Islamic Andalusian civilization and subsequently settled as refugees in North Africa between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries. In Spanish, the more specific term mudéjar refers to the Muslims living under Christian rule, and to the Islamic style of the art they executed for Christians. This art is often called Hispano-Moresque in English. Muslims who converted to Christianity were called Moriscos, while the Jewish converts were called Conversos. Christians who assimilated Islamic culture and used Arabic were known as Mozarabs.

Mughal dynasty (also spelled Mogol, 1526-1857)
The name of these rulers of large parts of India denotes their descent from the great Mongol rulers Chinggis Khan, who founded the dynasty in Asia, and Timur (Tamerlane, c. 1336-1405), who conquered Central Asia and Persia and invaded Russia, Syria, and India. Perpetuating the royal Muslim tradition of lavish patronage, the Mughals raised the art of the object to new levels of opulence and fine craftsmanship, notably in jewelry, glass, and metalwork. Exterior and interior revetments of marble inlaid with semiprecious stones were characteristic of imperial architecture from the mid-seventeenth century. Fine carpets and embroidered textiles were produced throughout the period. Metal thread embroidery, applied in several techniques on a variety of textiles, reached its peak. A number of the textiles in the photograph of Benjamin Constant's studio appear to be embellished in the Zardozi technique, which is similar to appliqué, including the cover draped on the balcony that served as a model for textiles in several of his paintings.

North Africa
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were nominally part of the Ottoman empire, though the local rulers (called beys or deys) were effectively independent. French colonization began with the capture of Algiers in 1830, and persisted as protectorates were established in Tunisia in 1881 and in Morocco in 1912. Waves of French settlers began to arrive in Algeria after 1847, when the dey surrendered, turning it into a "French Orient." Eugène Delacroix's journey to Morocco in 1832 and the paintings it inspired encouraged many French artists to visit North Africa beginning in the 1840s. The development of steamship lines and the availability of rented studios among the European community in Algiers facilitated this travel later in the century.

Orientalist painters
The French term Orientalisme, originally denoted the study of eastern peoples, languages, and religions, but by the mid-nineteenth century came to include paintings that depicted the Near East and North Africa by principally French and English artists. The subjects ranged from accurate representations of places, people, and events—such as those by artists who accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt in 1798—to exotic fantasies confected in the studio by artists who never left home, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' (1780-1867) female nudes in settings that suggest Turkish harems and baths. The subjects chosen and their artistic expression were strongly influenced by Romantic Western perceptions of the Islamic world. Genre themes predominated, above all the seraglio, inspired by Delacroix's paintings based on his famous visit to a harem in Morocco in 1832. The Near East also provided both evocative and authenticating visual material for history and religious paintings.

The Ottomans
Anatolia was settled by Muslim Turks from the end of the eleventh century. They soon gained political control of the central plateau, and after the Mongol invasions of the mid-thirteenth century, Turkish warlords began to move into the coastlands. One of the most successful was Osman, who established himself in Byzantine territory in northwest Anatolia. From here his descendants were able to invade southeast Europe, beginning in the 1360s. Having survived Timur’s invasion of Anatolia in 1402, they established themselves as the leading power there and in the Balkans. In 1453 the Byzantine empire was extinguished when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, which became their new capital, and in 1516 to 1517 they made themselves masters of the Mamluk empire. Further expansion followed, so that the Ottomans were probably the world’s most powerful state in the later sixteenth century. Although they later lost ground, the dynasty proved immensely durable, remaining in power until 1922. 1

Pags-pa (also spelled Phagspa, 'hPags Pa)
This script has been named after the Tibetan Buddhist monk (1235-1280) who devised it for Khubilai Khan in the 1260s. The new alphabet transcribed the sounds of the Mongol language more precisely than Uighur, a cursive Turkic script adopted under Chinggis Khan (r. 1206-1227). In 1278, Khubilai decreed that Pags-pa should replace Uighur on the metal tablets that served as passports in the Mongol empire, identifying officially authorized travelers and mandating their safe passage and supply. Pags-pa was sometimes used in the official seals stamped on paper money, which circulated throughout the empire. Europeans regarded both the passports and the money as exotic curiosities. Pags-pa is written vertically, and is now often called "square" or "quadratic" script after the shape of its letters.

Pazzi conspiracy
The plot to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici and his popular younger brother Giuliano was hatched in Rome by the circle of Girolamo Riario (1443-1488), nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). The murders were intended to facilitate the enlargement of papal territory in the Romagna region governed by Riario, who would assume leadership in Florence. Coconspirators were readily recruited among Florentines opposed to the Medici's hegemony, including many members of the Pazzi family and Francesco Salviati, whose appointment as Archbishop of Pisa (1474-1478) had been delayed by Lorenzo. The occasion chosen for the assassinations was the visit of Riario's nephew, the newly created Cardinal Raffaello Sansoni, to Florence in April 1478, accompanied by the archbishop. Plans to poison the Medici brothers at official receptions failed three times because Giuliano was absent due to illness. A partially successful attack occurred during Mass in the cathedral of Florence on Easter Sunday, April 26, where Giuliano was brutally slain, but Lorenzo escaped with a neck wound.

By nightfall, three members of the Pazzi family and the archbishop had been hung upside down from the windows of the city hall. About seventy more conspirators were soon rounded up and killed, imprisoned, or exiled, but Bernardo Bandini, the first to stab Giuliano, escaped.

The Florentine reaction precipitated a war with the Pope and his ally, King Ferrante of Naples. With Florence outnumbered and losing, Lorenzo traveled to Naples in December 1479 to negotiate peace. Three months and many costly gifts later, he succeeded. Florentines heralded him as a peacemaker.

This mythical bird of ancient but unknown origin supposedly lives to a great age, when it burns itself to death, then comes to life again after three days. It is thus a symbol of immortality and resurrection and is so represented in medieval art from Europe to China. The Chinese version, with extravagantly elaborate plumage, traveled westward through the Mongol empire and the Islamic world as decorations on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century textiles and other luxury objects.

The Qajars
The collapse of the Safavid state in Iran was followed by a period of political instability, during which the leaders of the Qajar tribe began to play an important political role. Towards the end of the century, its forceful leader, Agha Muhammad, was able to gain control of the whole country, with Tehran as his capital. He was assassinated soon after, but he was succeeded by his nephew Fath  ‘Ali Shah (ruled 1797–1834), and the dynasty ruled Iran until 1924. 1

This Chinese unicorn is named after the characters for "male" and "female." Like those represented on the Gallery's Persian carpet, the quilin has a single horn on its forehead, a multicolored back, and the body of a deer. The Chinese animal also has a yellow belly, a horse's hooves, and an ox's tail, which are not as recognizable on the carpet. In Chinese mythology, the quilin's rare appearance often heralds the birth or death of a sage or an illustrious ruler. Along with the fantastic phoenix and dragon, the motif of the quilin traveled westward by means of the textiles and decorative arts of the Mongol empire.

The Safavids
The leaders of the Turcoman tribes of eastern Anatolia, Iraq and western Iran gained political power in the region after Timur’s death at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Some allied themselves with the Safavi Sufi brotherhood, which had its centre in Ardabil in northwest Iran. The brotherhood converted to a form of Shi’ism late in the century, and beginning in 1500, its leader, the future Shah Isma‘il, began to seize political power for himself. He succeeded in uniting all of Iran under his rule, and he and his successors established a Shi’ite state that survived until 1722. 1

Sasanian Persia (224-637)
The Sasanian empire, which extended from the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers on the west to the Indus River in the east, was Byzantium's foremost rival in late antiquity. Its greatest artistic achievements were in architecture, rock-carvings, metalwork, and textiles. Sasanian silk textiles, presumably made in Persia, were sold or imitated from Egypt to China and had a profound influence on both the layouts and motifs of Byzantine and later Islamic textiles. Sasanian architecture and metalwork also strongly influenced Islamic artistic culture. In 637, the Sasanian forces were defeated by the Arab Muslims, who captured the capital at Ctesiphon near Baghdad.

Silk Road
The name comes from the principal commodity traveling west along the ancient caravan routes that linked China with the Mediterranean Sea and enabled the exchange of goods and ideas between the great civilizations of China and Rome. Rather than a single trail, the Silk Road consisted of a network of land routes, with numerous branches and junctions between the heart of China and Persia, from which there were various routes to the Mediterranean coast. The central and eastern sections became unsafe during late antiquity and early Islam, but were revived under the Mongols. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, these overland routes were supplemented by Genoese and Venetian shipping routes from Constantinople to ports on the southern and eastern shores of the Black Sea. Also traveling west along the trade routes were the foot stirrup for horse riding, the crossbow, paper, and gunpowder. Traveling east were many food plants of the Islamic world—such as the grape vine, alfalfa, chives, cucumbers, figs, and sesame—and the Buddhist religion of India.

Soft-paste porcelain
The Medici produced a soft-paste porcelain, which has a different composition and is fired at lower temperatures than true, or hard-paste porcelain. The clay used, from the Italian city of Vicenza, contains some kaolin, an essential ingredient in genuine Chinese porcelain. Like the frit-paste ceramics produced in the Islamic world, Medici porcelain has a high silica content, obtained from quartz in sand or finely-ground pebbles. In the late sixteenth century, Ottoman Turkey was the closest and largest producer of ceramics in the frit-paste technique.

Tartar cloths
This is the English translation of the Italian term for the luxurious silk textiles from the Mongol empire, which are mentioned in the inventories of the papal treasury of 1295 and 1311 (panni Tartarici), and in Dante's Divine Comedy, composed in about 1320 (Inferno XVII, 17: drappi Tartarici). At that time, Europeans applied the word Tartar (also spelled Tatar) to all the peoples and states of the Mongol empire. Historically, the Tartars were a Mongol people who did not belong to the tribal confederation from which the empire emerged. The textiles reaching Italy were made in Central Asia, Persia, and Mesopotamia. Early examples arrived as diplomatic gifts from the Ilkhanid rulers of Persia to the popes. Tartar cloths poured into Italy after 1291, when Venice and Genoa shifted their eastern trade from Syria and Egypt—where the pope had prohibited Christian trade—to the Black Sea and the Mongol empire. It took several decades for Italian designers and weavers to absorb the new textile patterns and techniques. Imitations were first produced in about the 1330s and proliferated rapidly and creatively. By the time the Mongol empire crumbled in the 1360s, and the supply of Tartar cloths plummeted, Italy was ready to fill the gap in the booming international market for luxury textiles, exporting to the Islamic world as well as to Europe.

Thuluth (or thulth)
Thought to have been one of the styles of Arabic script invented by the famous calligrapher Qutba al-Mihrr (d. 771), thuluth is a cursive script first used in bureaucratic texts during the Umayyad dynasty (661-749). Its name, which means one third, may refer to the ratio of the curving to the straight strokes in its letters. Increasingly popular in the eastern Arab world from the twelfth century, it was usually used in large format. For example, in Mamluk Qur'ans it was almost always used for verse headings and other complementary ornament rather than for the text. Inscriptions in bold and elegantly tapering thuluth script are characteristic of the decoration on Mamluk textiles, metalwork, glassware, and ceramics.

Derived from the Persian word for embroidery, the Arabic word tiraz originally designated the woven or embroidered inscriptions on fabrics produced exclusively for the early Muslim caliphs, but eventually came to refer to royal weaving establishments throughout the Muslim world and to the ornamental inscriptions themselves. These legible Arabic inscriptions honored and usually named individual Muslim rulers, who presented garments made from such fabrics to the court and other local or visiting dignitaries and also sent them as diplomatic gifts. In the Islamic world, tiraz garments were worn as symbols of high social status and political loyalty. Europeans became familiar with tiraz textiles during the Crusades, when some were brought home as war trophies or wraps for religious relics, while others arrived in regular commerce. Tiraz fabrics entered church treasuries, and were made into liturgical garments and altar covers despite the inappropriate inscriptions.

Turkoman (also spelled Turcoman, Turkmen)
It is believed that these tribesmen who invaded Anatolia in the eleventh and twelfth centuries brought the carpet-making tradition of Central Asia with them. Carpets play an important role in the economy and culture of nomadic sheepherders. The Muslim travelers Ibn Said (1213-1283) and Ibn Battuta (1304-1377) referred to Anatolia as the land of the Turkoman people, who weave carpets for sale to foreigners.

Underglaze blue
Cobalt blue was first used successfully for decorating ceramics in about 830 in Iraq, where the pigment, from an ore mined in the Middle East, was painted into an opaque white glaze that contained tin oxide before firing. The tin glaze kept the cobalt stable during firing. Iraqi wares reaching China inspired a few similar pieces during the ninth century that were probably intended for export to the Islamic world. The Chinese used Middle Eastern ore and called the color "Muhammadan blue." Painting in cobalt blue on Iraqi earthenware was abandoned in the late ninth or early tenth century and was revived during the twelfth century on the new fritware (also called stonepaste) produced in Persia and Syria. In Persian culture, cobalt blue and turquoise were favored colors because they were believed to avert the evil eye. The white body of fritware, made by combining quartz from sand or finely ground pebbles with a small amount of fine white clay and a glassy substance called frit, eliminated the need for a tin glaze beneath the painted decoration. The object was then covered with a transparent or tinted glaze before firing. Underglaze painting provided improved styles of decoration and a sheen that better resembled Chinese porcelain. The Persian cobalt used was difficult to control, however, with a tendency to run in the glaze. The same blurring occurred in fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, in which the same Persian cobalt was used. During the reign of the Ming emperor Xuande (1426-1435), a Chinese ore containing manganese, which the Persian cobalt lacked, began to be used because it could be better controlled at the high-firing temperatures required for porcelain.


1. Excerpted from Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Victoria and Albert Museum, by Tim Stanley with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, published worldwide by V&A Publications, ISBN 185177 430 0.  The book is distributed in hardcover in North America by Harry N. Abrams Inc., ISBN 0-8109-6562-3.

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