Mosque lamp for Sultan Hasan, Egypt or Syria (Mamluk)
between 1347 and 1361, enameled and gilded glass, 35.6 cm (14)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

~Islam: Religion, Art, and Culture

When the Middle East came under Islamic rule in the seventh century, artistic production did not immediately break with the past; only gradually did the region's varied artistic traditions merge into an identifiably Islamic style. The prominence given to inscriptions in Arabic helped give Islamic art its own character, as did technical advances. From the twelfth century, for example, potters painted designs under the glaze, while metalworkers executed complex and colorful patterns on the surface of brasswares using inlay in silver, copper, gold, and other materials. Similar skills were applied to glass vessels, which were covered with bright and well-composed ornament using enameled colors and gilding.

External forces brought further change. Trade with China in the eighth century reintroduced the use of ceramic tablewares to the Middle East, and in the thirteenth century, the Mongol occupation of the eastern half of the Middle East led to the adoption of East Asian imperial motifs such as the phoenix and the dragon. All these changes had a cumulative effect, so that by the fourteenth century, Islamic art had become totally distinct from the art of the pre-Islamic past.

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