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Islamic Art in Europe Essay

Islamic art and architecture is worldly renowned. It was developed during the era when the West was surrounded in Dark. It was the time when the West was learning to live in a society while the Islamic world was enjoying their glorious time. They had mastered the language of social survival and aesthetic beauty. They had excellence in the field of science and arts especially chemistry, physics, mathematics, and astronomy, painting, sculpturing wood carving and calligraphic art, the dominant feature of Islamic art. The sea route of Mediterranean Sea spread the Islamic art and knowledge in the world of West.

The elites would visit the land of Muslims so as to gain knowledge from Muslim and Jewish scholars and brought with them the memories of Islamic art. Later, this art was exported to the West and was the sign of status. This art brought the glory of Muslim into another world and created patrons of Muslim art. When the Muslim glory was declining, the art did not lose its significance in the world and many Muslim artisans and Jewish craftsmen were employed by the Christians to build extravagant and highly admired buildings.

(Derhak, 1) The roots of European culture can be traced back to the time of Renaissance that brought a glorious time to the field of arts, science commerce and architecture. But long before this Spain was well developed in the humanistic and aesthetic beauty ingrained in the society which was at that time under the rule of Muslims. At the time when Europe a feudal society and all the powers were held by the Church, the Spain was booming and flourishing with half a million of population living in 113,000 houses and 700 mosques.

The houses were properly built catering the needs of the people as they provided marble balconies to serve people in summer and hot-air ducts built under mosaic tiles to prevent people from cold and winter. There were gardens with artificial fountains and orchards in every house. The streets were paved and properly constructed. There were seventy libraries in Cordova, capital of Muslim Empire while Europe was unknown to the material, paper. (Derhak, 1)

Students from around the world came here to learn philosophy, science and medicine. The society was tolerant to other faiths and religions which prospered the growth of art and architecture. But after some years, the period of intellectual and economic success began to decline and new Arabic dynasty was formed. Conservative in its nature, the new dynasty could not bring the glory to the Cordova society. At that time the Western society was growing and the Europeans were forming a lobby to drive the Muslims out of Spain.

They set a system of translating the work of Muslims which had the philosophies of Greeks and Romans. “They translated astrology, astronomy, pharmacology, psychology, physiology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, optics, chemistry, mathematics, physics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, music, meteorology, geography, mechanics, hydrostatic navigation and history”. Europeans learned a lot through the text of Moors. Along these texts, the Arabic music was spread teaching the use of flute, keyboard and harmony. (Derhak, 1)

The values and ideas taught by Islamic culture were called the secular humanism as it drove the people away from the powerful grip of Roman Catholic Church and these studies were having the progress of human nature as the centre of interest. The rise of humanism was seen in the paintings created by Renaissance artists. In the middle Ages, saints were the centre of drawings and they were portrayed as the humans larger than ordinary life. The landscapes in those painting were heaven but the renaissance art transformed and saints were depicted of the size of common man and earth became the landscape of the paintings.

Now the saints occupied similar to the common man. The renaissance art gave new tools to the artist to portray three-dimensional picture giving a new effect of illusions in paintings. The frame of the paintings was becoming more the frame of the window and the painting was the view of the place seen beyond the window. (AAM—The Renaissance Connection Lesson Plans Humanism in the Renaissance, 1) It gave the artists the idea of using oil paints and egg tempera in their paintings. These paints gave depth and roughness to the painting which gave a life to the paintings.

The glass and ceramics which became the identity of European courts for three hundred years was brought by Muslims in Spain. The skilled technique used to make glassware more ornamental was practiced by Muslim glassmakers in 800 AD. These techniques include gliding, enameling and tin-glaze and luster on glass. “Italy was at the heart of sea routes in late Middle Ages and was surrounded by Muslim Empires of Turkey, Palestine, North Africa and Spain”. This link helped in mixing the cultures of East and West.

Sea routes brought exposure to various forms of art and techniques. It introduced glassblowing in west practiced by east and learnt from Syrians of Roman Empire. This also diffused textiles, metal work, carpets and ivories, popularizing the motifs and styles of Islamic world in the West. (AAM—The Renaissance Connection Lesson Plans Humanism in the Renaissance, 1) The international luxury trade from 14th-17th century brought in a great impact on Italian art and architecture as it was heavily influenced by the items imported to European market from the Islamic east.

The Italians adapted and imitated the imported Oriental art. The Italians have little knowledge of the geographical distinction of the foreign items that they admired. The paintings that revolutionized the Italian culture gave rise to the trade and travel across the Mediterranean Sea. Ceramics that were regarded as mediocre in Islamic society were admired by the Italian society and had great impact on the pottery of Italy. (The Islamic Influence On The Italian Renaissance Is Explored In Exhibition Tracing The Roots Of Luxury Glass And Ceramics, 1)

The Cathedral built near Pisa at the end of 20th century has Islamic earthenware bowls called bacini are basically painted with the traditional Islamic animals, plants and geometric motifs. These bacini were also used as kitchenware demonstrating the diffusion of Islamic utensils in late middle Ages. It is thought that these utensils were brought in by Crusaders or donated by the travelers to local institutions or building projects. Bacini caused improvement in Italian pottery. The largest surviving Islamic bronze sculpture was brought in during the conquest of the Muslim Empires on Mediterranean shores.

The Lion of Venice, another bronze rendition came from the eastern shores of Mediterranean Sea and was placed at the entrance of the Piazza San Marco in Venice. (The Islamic Influence On The Italian Renaissance Is Explored In Exhibition Tracing The Roots Of Luxury Glass And Ceramics, 1) The Abbasids Caliph in Baghdad developed a rich urban culture giving high value to pleasure and luxury in every day’s life. They developed silk weaving, ceramics, metalwork and wood carving in daily utensils turning them into the work of art. The tapestries, cushions and rugs were woven in silk.

Clothing became rich and elegant and the daily utensils were given visual and demonstrative qualities adding the fun to use them. These items were heavily imported even among the Muslim Empire from Spain to China. Later they were exported to the European society when the wealth started flowing in their life. The items of decorations were also heavily imported which had no offending material to the Christian community as idolatry is not permissible in Islam. Most of the Islamic art were abstracts in which the sole or the dominant theme was religious. (Bent, 1)

The human figures drawn or sculptured in Islamic world consisted of humans engaged in pleasure of drinking, horse riding and hunting which was also with correspondence of the feudal society of Europe. The jars known as albarelli was commonly used in Islamic society to preserve spices was aesthetically beautiful and showed style in its use. The ivy and fern leaves painted in horizontal bands in cobalt blue and gold metallic luster highly complemented the shape of the jar. The Italian Renaissance and Islamic art both emphasizes in the harmony of design, balance of parts and perfection of the whole body of the item.

(Bent, 1) The main difference between Renaissance art and Islamic art was that European art was the representation of Greco-Roman traditions while Islamic art was ornamental. The depiction of plants was strikingly similar to the nature as they grow and behave. The borders or the frames carry most of the meaning of the drawing. The art influenced by the oriental imports focuses on pleasing the senses and enhanced the object. These art pieces lost their religious meaning of Islamic culture as the seculars or Christians employed the artists who were highly regarded for their craft.

For example the basins which were used for washing hands before meals or prayers in the east Islamic Empire lost its meaning and were used as the containers of wines of Eucharist. Even the garments also lost their original identity. The silk garments which had woven Arabic inscriptions on them praising the Mamluk Sultan worn by the princes according to their statuses and adherence also lost their original representation and were worn by the clergy of Roman Catholic Church. (Bent, 1)

The most important room of Italian courts, the bedchambers were highly decorated with the tapestries, in which Arabic inscription were woven, and expensive carpets, originally traded from the Muslim market or are the original depiction of Muslim art. The silk gowns which were presented to Muslim rulers for their statuses were then presented to European kings as diplomatic gift. The use of silk became so much prevalent in European society that later the princes were buried after being wrapped in Ornamental silk. Most of the silk was consumed by the Church as it was used as drapes on altars walls and funeral biers.

(Bent, 1) The vessels made up of rock crystals, glass and ceramics acquired a sacred status as they became the containers of relics. The use of precious metals gems also started prevailing in European society and started defining the statuses of the people. The bourgeoisie proudly showed off the pieces acquired from the Italian culture. The use of such materials prominently defined the difference of statuses among the rich and powerful. The cost, rarity technique and the eastern origins made the goods more appealing to the European society.

Sometimes the richest Europeans had difficulty in collecting luxury item in quantity like the Islamic carpets and Chinese porcelain. (Mack, 1) The Italians tried to establish local markets of such items but they failed to produce the quality and the design similar to the original item but some imported item became so popular that exceptional efforts were made to create an imitation of those goods which was quite similar to the original one. The imitation was so similar that it was difficult to distinguish the original piece from the mimic intricate indicating the sophisticated appreciation of Islamic art.

The foreign art highly contributed in the development of the Italian art as these patrons and artisan were always in thrust of exploring and developing new techniques in art to give it a more luxurious touch. (Mack, 2) The script of the movement of Oriental art written by Italians have little value as at that time they had little knowledge about the geographical origins and foreign artistic styles and little has been written by Muslim authors. It is believed that cross-culture has occurred when a native artist migrated to another land and trains the patrons of the other society.

Another way of cross-cultural development was due to the sketches or memories of patron or the traveler who had highly admired the art and culture and other societies and brought it to his land. (Mack, 3) The early transference of Muslim culture showed its early traces in Venice when a state chapel and a shrine was being built for the saint relics. A Byzantine architect and a Greek craftsman worked on its structure and earlier designs of mosaic decoration. These Gothic last of Italian art had its roots back to Islamic culture. It has its historical analogies with styles of Pisa and Norman Sicily.

This form of art soon appeared in the state buildings giving great credit and honor to the Christian as they defeated the Muslim and drove them out of Mediterranean shores. Soon the Christian had full control on the goods let by Muslims as war booty and was used for commercial advantage. The Pisans and Normans styles quickly grew but were highly affected by the architecture of Mediterranean but significantly expressed the shift of powers. The conquest in west Mediterranean shores also created extensive trade across the sea routes.

The variety of color and texture in the cathedral’s exterior ornaments bring to mind the great Islamic art of Spain and North Africa. High influence of Islamic art was depicted on the governmental and religious buildings especially in Norman Sicily and Pisa as they hired the Muslims and the Greek inhabiting the shores of Mediterranean. (Mack, 4) The geometric marble traceries screening windows in lunette above the Porta Sant’ Alippio at the extreme left of the facade is quite similar to the window grill of Great Mosque in Damascus.

The striking similarities between the Islamic and Christian buildings created confusion among the travelers and they started considering the Dome of Rock as the temple of Solomon and Herod. Another example of such confusions is Al-Aqsa mosque considered as the palace of Solomon. (Mack, 5) The domes were highly regarded in Islamic building especially mosques. The trend on the domes in mosques can be traced back to the early time of Islamic civilization. The most original form is muqarnas dome or semi dome. It is truly Islamic creation and was not influenced by any other culture or civilization.

They could be made of wood, stucco, brick or stone and are the most characteristic feature of Muslim world. These were later adopted by the Christian in their religious building especially that of Pisa. (Grabar, 1) The varied Oriental culture in Venice showed the growing trade relations with the eastern Mediterranean. The Gothic architectural style highly expressed the values and culture of the ruling class and also developed a distinctive dialect which had any words of Arabic language and this dialect survived in the palaces till sixteen century- showing the high influence of Islamic society in Venice. (Mack, 6)

Later in the 14th century the theme of Italian paintings changed and they showed the arrival of luxury items from Islamic society and their use by the Italian people. The paintings, drawings and sculptures portrayed the understanding of cultures of East and West but these understanding were based on the imports of goods, religious and political strategies with each other. (Mack, 7) The fascination for Islamic art was beyond the bounds of Islamic world. The development of blue and white on ceramics in Islamic art was desirable to Chinese as well as Europe. It was highly bought by these societies for decorative purpose. (Bent, 1)

The Quranic scripts written on mosques developed calligraphy in Islamic art. This decoration was applied to various buildings of religion, military civic and private use. it was the main feature and identity of Islamic art. The earliest surviving building of calligraphic art is Dome of Rock in Jerusalem. The inscription on buildings used to show the praise to God, construction date and patronage scripts on the religious buildings while the civic buildings had date of construction, details of the architects and artisan but most prominently it had reference inscriptions of the caliph to demonstrate his power and benevolence.

Variety of calligraphic art was developed for aesthetic beauty. It was applied on many surfaces like wood, stone, plaster and ceramic tiles. Later it was developed on books, coins and metal wares. This form of art highly attracted the west due to its origin and writing pattern. They were usually used for decorative purpose. The crockery having calligraphic art was highly regarded for their classy use and was mainly consumed by elites. (Renaissance art and architecture – FREE Renaissance art and architecture information Encyclopedia_com Facts, pictures, information!

1) Works Cited AAM—The Renaissance Connection Lesson Plans Humanism in the Renaissance http://www. renaissanceconnection. org/lesson_social_humanism. html Accessed May 08, 2009 Bent. B, (1991), Islamic Art, 2nd edition, Harvard University Press, England. Derhak. D (2005) Muslim Spain and European Culture http://www. xmission. com/~dderhak/index/moors. htm Accessed May 08, 2009 Grabar. O, (1985), Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, illustrated edition, BRILL Mack. E.

R, (2001) Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian art, 1300-1600, illustrated edition, University of California Press, California. Renaissance art and architecture – FREE Renaissance art and architecture information Encyclopedia_com Facts, pictures, information! http://www. encyclopedia. com/doc/1E1-Renaisart. html Accessed May 08, 2009 The Islamic Influence On The Italian Renaissance Is Explored In Exhibition Tracing The Roots Of Luxury Glass And Ceramics, March 23, 2004 http://www. getty. edu/news/press/exhibit/artof_fireshort. html Accessed May 08, 2009


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