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The Kaaba is the most significant building in the Islamic culture, being the center and the destination of all Muslim prayers. It is a large stone structure made from granite in the form of a cube. Inside, the floors are covered in limestone and marble, and the outside of the structure is covered in black silk. The textile is embroidered with golden lettering that recites a text from Qur’an (Stokstad and Cothren 270). According to the history of this structure, Mohammad entered the Mecca in 630, emptying the Kaaba which was previously occupied by figures of pagan idols. The covering of the Kaaba is simple but rich in detail at the same time, showing how Islam is both a religion of humbleness and devotion to God.
The Great Mosque of Damascus
Otherwise known as the Umayyad Mosque, this structure is considered to be one of the most prominent mosques in the world (Stokstad and Cothren 274). Here, the love for intricate designs and the attention to detail can be observed as the walls are decorated with mosaics depicting nature and cityscapes. Aisles and bays are repeated to allow for extending the mosque. The addition of tall minarets (towers) outlines the mosque in the city landscape and signifies the presence and power of Islam. Another notable detail is the qibla wall – a part of every mosque at which all prayers are oriented to direct them to the Kaaba.
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The art of calligraphy is closely tied to the culture of Islam due to the study of Qur’an – its main religious text. The use of Arabic language in book production and the deep respect for the religious texts allowed authors to blend art and writing, and the pages of Qur’an were often decorated with embellishments. Notably, the religion of Islam does not feature any figural designs, focusing on geometrical and botanical types of ornamentation instead. These characteristics can be seen in this frontpiece to Qur’an which was donated by Sultan Shaban in 1369 (Stokstad and Cothren 286). The use of gold and ink on the paper creates a carpet-like image filled with small symmetrical ornaments and lines of religious text. The use of geometrical forms implies the Islamic culture’s interest in sciences.
Drawing from the Maqamat of al-Hariri
Artist: Yahya Ibn al-Wasiti
In Medieval Islam, illustrated tales became a popular art form in which authors, artists, and calligraphers honed their skills. This is the example of a drawing which illustrates one of the scenes in al-Hariri’s Maqamat (translated as “Assemblies”) (Stokstad and Cothren 269). The use of colored inks and gold allows one to depict the interior of a mosque where similar tones are used in materials.
The scene shows major parts of the religious structure such as the minbar (pulpit) and mihrab (wall). Moreover, the columns with ornamented half-round arches and capitals are also exhibited, and their symmetry is preserved in the drawing. The decorations and the details of the men’s clothing allow one to see the period’s styles. Thus, the picture concentrates on people without neglecting primary spiritual objects.
Minbar from the Kutubiya Mosque in Marrakesh
One of the significant religious objects is the minbar – a wooden staircase from which the prayer is delivered to the visitors of the mosque. This particular minbar demonstrates one of the main ornament styles of the Islamic culture – wooden strapwork (Stokstad and Cothren 279). Small pieces of wood and ivory are used to create an intricate geometric pattern repeated throughout both sides of the pulpit. The rises on the minbar also depict columns with horseshoe arches – another characteristic of religious architecture in Islam. The use of hexagons and stars in the design is descriptive of the culture as well, as Islamic art draws inspiration from mathematics and geometry.
Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael W. Cothren. Art History. Vol. 1, 6th ed., Pearson, 2017.