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Introduction to
Islamic Art

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750 - 1285 AD


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Once the initial shock of the Arab invasion was over, the Iranians got down to the job of assimilating their vanquishers. Artists and craftsmen put themselves at the disposal of the new rulers and the needs of the new religion, and Moslem buildings adopted the methods and materials of the Sassanian period.

The Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq, 848-852 AD

The Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq, 848-852 AD. Built on an open plan principle, this is the largest mosque of Islam (748 x 512 ft). The most striking feature of the mosque is the winding minaret (Al-Malwiyya) which is ascended by an external stairway.

The size of the buildings and the techniques of construction in the Abbassid period show a revival of the Mesopotamian architecture. Bricks were used for walls and pillars. These pillars then acted as isolated supports for the vaults that were used repeatedly throughout the Moslem world, due to the scarcity of roofing timber. The wide assortment of arches in Abbassid architecture leads one to believe that their varied shapes were for ornamental purposes rather than structural requirements.


The hypostyle hall of the very ancient mosque at Nayin

The hypostyle hall of the very ancient mosque at Nayin, east of Isfahan, which dates from AD 960. The columns are of brick with decorative stucco, which bears a resemblance to the sculptured motifs on the 9th century monuments of Samarra.

Of all the decorative arts, pottery made the most remarkable advances during the Abbassid period. In the 9th century new techniques were developed in which bold designs were painted with a strong cobalt blue pigment on a white background. Sometimes several tones of luster were combined on a white background, including red, green, gold or brown. Towards the end of the 9th century, animal and human silhouette designs became quite common, on a plain or densely covered background.

9th century plate, from Nishapur

10th century plate, from Nishapur

Ceramics are among the earliest examples of Islamic art in Iran, and hold a place of special importance. This 9th century plate is from Nishapur, and is decorated with two birds on a white background.

Slip painted glazed dish from Nishapur, Iran 10th century. The Kufic script on the border transcribes the following saying "The beginning of knowledge is bitter to taste, but the end is sweeter than honey. Peace be (to the owner)".

9th century plate, from Nishapur

A blue plate from Gorgan, decorated with arabesque

From Nishapur, a plate with undulating stripes in three colours against a white background, dating from the 9th century. The olive-green black and red-brown hues are typical of this period, which happens to be contemporary with the Tang dynasty in China; the influence of this is discernible in Persian ceramics.

A blue plate from Gorgan, decorated with arabesque. In the centre is a tiny representation of the bird Simurgh. In terms of technique this piece, which dates from 12th century, is derived directly from the Song in southern China.

The pottery of the late Abbassid period (12th to early 13th century) includes:

  • Carved or molded lamps, incense burners, small floor tables and tiles with a turquoise-green glaze.
  • Jars and bowls painted with floral patterns, chevrons, animals or human figures etc. under a green or clear glaze.
  • Jars, bowls and tiles painted with a deep brown luster on a clear greenish glaze; the luster sometimes combined with blue and green lines.

Paintings from the early Abbasid era are known to us from the fragments excavated at Samarra, outside western Iran (approximately 62 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq). These wall paintings were found in the reception rooms of bourgeois houses and in the non-public parts of palaces, especially the harem quarters, where no religious function took place. A favorite location of such decorations was the domes over square halls. A good deal of the images have Hellenistic elements, as shown by the drinkers, dancers and musicians, but the style is basically Sassanian in spirit and content. Many have been reconstructed using Sassanian monuments such as rock reliefs, seals etc.

In the east of Iran, a painting of a woman's head, (late 8th or early 9th century) found in Nishapur has a strong resemblance to the art of Samarra; however, it is hardly touched by Hellenistic influences.

The pictorial art (miniatures) in the final period before the destruction of the caliphate is found mainly in manuscripts illustrating either scientific or literary works and was mainly restricted to Iraq.


Persian Art Through The Centuries

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Persian History

Persian Art
Through The Centuries

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Persian History
The Arab Conquest:
The Abbassid Caliphates

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