The Arts of Is­lam

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

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.’’

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