The Arts of Islam
North Africa, India, Syria, Iran and China.
‘‘ There are definite differences between nations. As the Islamic territories expanded, they used local craftsmen and materials, and that influenced the art,’’ Ms Schriwer said.
‘‘ In Iran, where you would probably see a lot of the Persian tradition, you will see decorative motifs like the winged lion. In Armenia, where there’s a predominantly Christian population, you will see predominantly Christian scenes on glassware.’’
There are pieces made for kings, including fine examples of the luxury arts of textiles, ceramics and goldsmiths’ work, manuscripts made in the service of God, and everyday objects like coins and scientific instruments.
In almost all cases, the works are beautiful, exquisitely rendered and very valuable - the product of many hands and fine materials.
‘‘ Islamic art is often considered very beautiful. If you look at the metal work or jewellery, there’s really fine craftsmanship involved,’’ Ms Schriwer said.
‘‘ It would have taken a long time to produce. The materials they’re made of are often valuable and exquisite, particularly the illuminations in the Koran and miniature paintings, where a lot of gold leaf is used. All of these objects have been made for wealthy patrons or rulers, so they are not run of the mill objects.’’
Many of the works were also labour intensive, she said. ‘‘ In terms of manufacturing a painting, it would have had three people working on it: a calligrapher, a painter and an illuminator.’’
Indeed, it was not unusual for Muslim and Jewish artists to work alongside one another on art commissioned by Muslim rulers and patrons, and also Christian patrons, during the golden age of Islamic art ( from 750 to the 16th century). Jewish dyers, for instance, worked with Muslim and Moorish weavers in Central Asia and Andulasia.
Significantly, there is a good representation of figurative art, and a 15th century manuscript depicting Mohammed surrounded by his relatives, in The Arts of Islam.
Although figurative representation is excluded from all religious and directly associated art forms, which rely on calligraphic citations from the Koran and abstract, often geometric ornamentation, it was commissioned by Muslim rulers for their palaces and to illustrate secular works like The Book of Kings ( The Shahnamah).
‘‘ The Prophet was afraid that paintings representing figures in art would entice people to worship idols. But the Koran itself doesn’t have a ban on it, which is why a lot of painting is figurative,’’ Ms Schriver said.
Likewise, it’s also acceptable to depict Mohammed in Islamic art. ‘‘ By the late 14th and 15th century, people began to veil the face of the Prophet out of piety. It was a pious practice not to show his face because he was so revered. As that went on, people began to mistake it for obedience to a prohibition,’’ Mr Rogers said.
The works in the exhibition were chosen to reflect the nature and breadth of the Khalili Collection, and to promote understanding and peace by illustrating the shared cultural heritage of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The 15th century manuscript depicting Mohammed surrounded by his relatives also shows Moses, Mary and Jesus, and illustrates how closely the three religions are related. ‘‘ It tells us that Islamic religion was a religion of tolerance, and the three religions lived side by side in harmony for centuries,’’ Mr Khalili said.
Some of the materials and pieces displayed in the exhibition, such as paper and the astrolabe, also draw attention to the broader cultural achievements of Islamic countries in fields other than art, such as science, philosophy and astronomy.
‘‘ Although they began producing Korans on parchments, they started doing them on paper before they did in Europe,’’ Ms Schriwer said.
‘‘ The earliest astrolabe is from the 9th century. It was used by astronomers and mathematicians and also by Muslims to find the direction of [ the holy city] Mecca.’’