Tile panel with picnic scene (detail), Iran (Safavid), Isfahan
17th century, fritware with colored glazes
104 x 221.5 x 8 cm (40 15/16 x 87 3/16 x 3 1/8)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
| ~What is
Islamic art is 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.
Excerpted from Palace
and Mosque, Islamic Art from the Middle East,
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.