The Origin of Islamic Art

To celebrate Adam Williamson & Richard Henry’s ‘Art Of Islamic Pattern’ study trip to Granada next Thursday, we hope you enjoy this post series on Islamic Art. If you don’t have a mid-September plan yet, don’t wait! Registration is open for ‘The Art of Islamic Pattern’ workshop in Granada again from the 14th to the 17th of September. Contact now for more information.

The Origin of Islamic Art
(part 1 of 3):

‘ It is not surprising, nor strange, that the most outward manifestation of a religion or civilization like Islam- and art is by definition an exteriorization- should reflect in its own fashion what is most inward in that civilization. The substance of art is beauty; and in this, in Islamic terms, is a divine quality and as such has a double aspect: in the world, it is appearance; it is terms, is a divine quality and as such has a double aspect: in the world, it is appearance; it is the garb which, as it were, clothes beautiful things and beings; in God, however, or in itself, it is pure inward beatitude: it is divine quality which, among al the divine qualities manifested in the world, most directly recalls pure Being. ‘

  • Titus Burckhardt


Without Islam, the Arab language would not have been preserved the way it did during the 7th century. This was mainly trough conquering the thought and expressions of the taken territories by imposing the Arabic language as the language of Islam.

Even though there is a clear marriage between the Islamic and the Arabic, it is still difficult for many historians to call it Arabic art, but rather Islamic-Arab art. Because Islamic art was mainly produced by Syrian, Persian and Greek craftsmen and not by Arab people. Nevertheless, the Arabic language has an extraordinary power as a sacred language and continues to influence the Islamic art, as we know it.

Islamic art includes two basic elements that are strongly related to the Arabic language.

One well-known element is the contemplative one. Take for example the Arabesque that tries to find unity through rhythm, a direct expression of rhythm in the visual order.

The other element that stands out strongly in Islamic art and which represents a strong Arabic domination is the interlacement.


In many ways the plastic arts have tried to portray the language of Koran. Even though this is difficult to understand since the Koran does not obey the laws of composition. So in many ways Arab art including poetry and music loves to repeat certain forms and then to introduce sudden variants against the repetitive background. The most profound connection between Islamic Art and the Koran is not the form of the Koran but it is the formless essence, more specifically the notion of tawhid, and its unity with its contemplative characteristics. So in a way all the plastic arts in Islam tries to project a visual order of certain dimensions of Divine Unity.


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