June 17, 2024

The rise of Islam in Arabia and its subsequent spread had a profound and unifying effect on the art and culture of the Arab lands, Turkey, Iran and Central and South Asia. Underpinned by a shared Islamic heritage, each region nevertheless continued to strongly express its artistic individuality. This cultural diversity is made clear – as well as being beautifully displayed – in the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s newly refurbished Islamic galleries. Hidden from view since 2003, many of the works on display were created for dynastic rulers and nobles by workshops in the service of the court. This world is revealed in illustrated literary, poetic, and heroic texts, like the epic Persian Book of Kings or in royal portraits and precious objects for the Ottoman Sultans. Patterns of patronage extended into the worlds of trade, commerce and village life, too; expressed in carpets, ceramics, and quotidian objects rendered as items of exquisite beauty, like the mihrab or prayer niche seen above. Yet the quintessential form of artistic expression in the Islamic world was calligraphy as derived from the holy book, the Qur’an. Lavishly copied in many beautiful scripts, its sacred verses adorned architecture and art everywhere, woven into complex geometric designs, along with floral and vegetable motifs in a variety of scrolling patterns. It has been said that God is in the details. For the artists who toiled anonymously in the service of Islam, that truism was more than just hyperbole; it was the highest form of expression.


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