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Islamic Art and Architecture; Influence and Effects Essay

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During the reign of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal rulers, architecture and art took on more meaning than it had in the past. The types of architecture and manuscript writing have had both symbolic significance and influence on the people of these empires. The architecture can be said to have had the greatest impact on the presence of power and devotion to Islamic arts of all of the empires, while manuscripts were held privately until trends influenced their spread over greater distances and people.

The Ottomans, in their quest to expand their lands and influence, conquered Constantinople in 1453, which sparked a major period of construction in the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. This large building initiative took place in order to encourage a repopulating of Istanbul, as well as the revitalization of the economy in this declining city. The buildings and complexes the Ottomans built shed an interesting light on their concerns and ideals. For example, while the complexes were mainly built as places of worship, they took on other roles, such as, centers for education, commerce, and hospital care.

One complex is clear in its intentions to the public, as can be seen by the endowment deed, which read “ to elevate matters of religion and religious sciences in order to strengthen the mechanisms of worldly sovereignty and to reach happiness in the afterworld”, (Bloom & Blair, 298).

This combination of buildings in a complex format drew people from the old capital and cities of the empire, and generated revenue that amassed into fortunes for the rulers of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans, however, were not the only empire to enjoy great wealth and displays of that wealth. The Mughals, who descended from the same Turkish conquerors as the Ottomans, also enjoyed prosperity from great building projects. The architecture of the Mughals was able to change with great regularity during its time, due to the constant movement of the central government. The Mughals also benefited from a blend of styles and influences to create their palaces. The most famous example of Mughal architecture was the Taj Mahal, which was built in the memory of a deceased favorite wife. In the building of temples and tombs in Mughal history, it is quite common to find them built as reminders to the community of saints, heroes, or loved ones. It was also common to find that they lacked as much fine detail as their neighbors to the west, but brought new styles to the architecture derived from the rich traditions of the people of India.

Unlike the Ottomans and The Mughal, the Safavids were derived from the family lineage of Mohammed the prophet. Despite this difference, the Safavids built great temples and complexes for similar reasons. The Safavids built great complexes, and like the Ottomans, they moved their capital to a centralized location in order to centralize power, and increase commerce. The Safavids also shared another trait in building with the Ottomans. They both had a strong emphasis on education, and liked to keep a watchful eye over it. For this reason, religious complexes often included the highest forms of education for both the government and the religion of Islam. Though in competition for much of their histories, the Ottomans and Safavids adhered to many of the same architectural styles, with one major difference. Due to their difference in branches of Islam, the Safavids, unlike their Sunni neighbors the Ottomans, had little problem with diverging from traditional customs of avoiding the use of depictions of animals and people in their design.

This proved to enhance the appearance of the buildings, but also give them a unique place in the history of Islamic buildings. Manuscripts, on the other hand, have a very different history than do the magnificent buildings of the Islamic world. In the Ottoman Empire, as was true of most of the Muslim world, the Koran was the most copied manuscript. Copies of the Koran were reproduced with astonishing art, but were usually given as gifts to other rulers. In this system, the common person was excluded from viewing the finest manuscripts. Common manuscripts were produced by artisans, but lacked the high quality of that of the royal courts. The Ottomans also used their talents to reproduce manuscripts that depicted great rulers and events in history, as well as topography paintings that displayed the prominence of conquest in the Ottomans daily life. Ottoman manuscripts were not as popular or unique as the ones created by the Safavids or Mughals, but they did posses superiority in the art of calligraphy. Manuscripts from the Safavid and Mughal empires possessed greater detail in art, but most of the calligraphers were not as skilled as those of the Ottoman Empire. Despite this lack of good calligraphy, the Safavids and Mughals were more skilled in art and design.

Like the Ottomans, the Mughals and Safavid empires copied the Koran at a high rate, but only the best works of art were given away as gifts. This lack of quality reproductions, which included not only writing, but also painting, led to the decline of the bound book. This decline led to the development of an industry of artisans creating single manuscripts. These manuscripts allowed for both artistic differences that were hard to avoid in large manuscripts, and it allowed more people to posses art. They were collected into books, but they had a greater impact on both the people of the Muslim world and the Europeans, who were exploring the area heavily in search of people to colonize. The arrival of the Europeans also led to a decline in the production of small manuscripts, due to the fact that the printing press and mass production of books were arriving in Europe.


Islamic art and architecture both had more than one use in Islamic life. The architecture reminded the people of saints, great rulers, martyrs, or beloved figures, as well as serving as a center for religion, education, commerce, and medicine. The art of the Islamic world was originally used to tell of battles, heroes, and most popularly recreate the Koran. Art also allowed for the growth of writing, painting, and the distribution of ideas over greater distances than the spoken word. Both Islamic art and architecture still hold as reminders to Muslims and the world that great rulers, conquerors, and artists have made a lasting impact on the region and its culture.

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