The Islamic World to 1600
While we have seen so far that Islamic art discouraged the use of pictorial imagery, opting instead to use such decorative arts as calligraphy or geometric shapes, painting in the Muslim world was not completely devoid of human and animal images. The distinguishing feature of Islamic pictorial art was that it was secular. The earliest pictures occurred in illustrated manuscripts, particularly those relating to science. Medical books featured drawings of the human body, for example, which was acceptable because it did not have any religious connotations. Although some theologians still disapproved, pictorial art grew in popularity as Islamic rulers commissioned artists to develop new ways to portray their world. Some of this art featured battle scenes or the enemy, the monarchs themselves, musicians, dancers, or animals. In places such as Egypt, Iran, and Central Asia, much of the early Islamic pictorial art was adopted from pre-Islamic artistic traditions.
The Fatimid and Seljuk dynasties began painting ordinary people in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Persian miniature painting began under the patronage of the Il-Khanate in the 14th century. The Il-Khans paid particular attention to patronising the arts, in an attempt to repair some of the damage their invasion in the early 13th century had caused. With its Mongol roots, the Il-Khanate opened the door for Chinese artistic influences to travel to Iran, which can be seen in the Persian art of that period. The height of Persian miniature painting occurred in Timurid Iran, when influences from China and India came together to produce a distinct style. The tradition of high-quality Persian painting continued under the Safavids, but, as in other regions of the Islamic world, depended on the patronage of the monarch. When Shah Tahmasp I withdrew his support in the 1540s, the artists at his court spread to surrounding centres, such as Bukhara and northern India. Mughal painting developed from these migrant artists; Akbar even encouraged mixing Persian and Indian art, as a means of promoting goodwill between Muslims and Hindus. Mughal art was more humanistic than decorative, and figures were portrayed in a realistic, rather than fantasy, form. In the Ottoman Empire, the court commissioned painting of distinctly Ottoman events, such as battles and festivals, and placed almost all works in the Imperial Library in Istanbul.
Not all painting featured pictorial images, however. As we have seen, Islam had a long tradition of non-representational art. Calligraphy was a major component of this type of art, as were floral patterns and geometric designs. This was the only type of painting used on mosques, since representational art was unacceptable for the Muslim place of worship. The Alhambra and the doors of the Great Mosque of Cordoba provide examples of non-representational art in mosques. Such patterns were featured not only in painting, but also in pottery, ceramics, textiles, and carpets.
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