Candlestick, Egypt or Syria (Mamluk)
late 13th-early 14th century, brass with silver inlay, 35.7 cm (14 1/16)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Bequest of George Salting

~Islam: Religion, Art, and Culture

The mission of the Prophet Muhammad led to the establishment of Islam as a religion and as a state, which was confined to Arabia during the Prophet's lifetime. After his death in A.D. 632, Islam grew rapidly to encompass a vast area that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus River, in what is now Pakistan. In the tenth century, this great empire disintegrated, and new forms of political authority emerged. Nevertheless, until the early twentieth century, all the states that succeeded the first Islamic empire were based on Islamic law and beliefs.

In the Islamic Middle East, as elsewhere, patronage followed power, and the ruling elite set the style in artistic production. Yet the people who commissioned, designed, and made this art were not all Muslims. Nor was the content of Islamic art necessarily religious, since it also reflected a sophisticated secular culture. "Islamic art" is therefore a broad cultural term rather than one based on an exclusively religious definition.

Copyright © National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.