10 October 2014

Islamic Art at Grays

September saw the opening of the first museum of Islamic art in North America. It’s the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto with a collection of over one thousand artefacts in ceramic, metalwork, stone and wood, textile and carpet, glass and rock crystal objects, parchment and illustrated paintings on paper. The Museum’s goal is to demystify Islam through increasing knowledge and appreciation of Islamic art by presenting an overview of the artistic accomplishments of Muslim civilisations from the Iberian Peninsula to China.

 The Islamic period began with the rapid rise of Islam in the 7th century AD. The religion's founder, the Prophet Muhammad, was a political leader as well as a religious guide. By 750, his successors had established a vast empire which stretched from Spain and Morocco in the west to Central Asia and Afghanistan in the east.

Bronze oil lamp, Afghanistan. Kofic writing, 12th century. Offered by Bakhtar Art

Islamic ceramic soup bowl, Afghanistan, Bamyan, 12th century, offered by Bakhtar Art

Agate pendant, Arabic engraving, 18th-19th century. Offered by Bakhtar Art

Closer to home in London, at the V&A Museum, the JameelGallery,  houses 400 objects including ceramics, textiles, carpets, metalwork, glass and woodwork. The collection explains the development of Islamic art production from the great dates of the Islamic caliphate of the 8th century up to the First World War. Geographically, it covers an area from Spain to Uzbekistan.  The V&A holds more than 19,000 objects ranging from the early Islamic Period to the 1920s, from Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the countries of North Africa and has a ceramic collection which is internationally the most important and comprehensive of its kind.

 Islamic art is at the forefront of the origins of nineteenth century English decorative arts. In Victorian Britain, retailers sold a range of goods imported from the Islamic world providing a source of inspiration for art work that was seeking to break away from the historic European styles dominating British art at the time.  William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement were greatly influenced by Islamic designers because they were particularly expert at producing surface patterns. Colour and form were to be placed above any type of realism.

12th century bronze stirrup, engraved with Kofic writing, offered by Bakhtar Art

Islamic Mughal Art, offered by Bakhtar Art

Islamic bronze pendant, Kofic description, 12th century, offered by Bakhtar Art

Spanish Islamic Hispano-Moresque charger, 16th century, offered by Antique Choices

13th century Kashan tile, Persia, offered by Antique Choices

Zand period (1750-1794) brass Huqa base, Persia, offered by Antique Choices

With its approach to flat surfaces and use of colour schemes, the Movement had a great appeal across the disciplines. Many saw that the principles behind the Islamic decorative arts system was an effective way of producing contemporary pattern work, because Islamic designers seemed to have an innate understanding of the materials used and the medium of surface decoration, and approach to colour and tone.

Ultimately, it was the non-representational, flat and graphic aspect of Islamic art that captivated the Victorian vanguard and was developed on printed textiles, woven carpets, wallpaper design and ceramic tile work. This perspective on the decorative arts took on an aspect that eventually proved to be amongst the building blocks of Modernism.

Islamic art at Grays is varied in terms of geographic origins and covers most areas of material production from textiles to wood, glass to metal and most areas of artistic expression, books, paintings, coins, jewellery, tiles and sculpture, and more.

 Written by Titika Malkogeorgou

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