Progression of Islamic Art

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There exist three basic components of traditional Islamic art: calligraphy, geometric patterns, and floral and vegetal motifs. These three stylistic tools are beautifully rendered and masterfully integrated into complex works of art, but there is no question that artistic expression is severely limited under these categorizations. However, this limitation stems from Islamic theology and concept of art. The main reason for the limitation imposed on visual art is the Islamic theological prohibition of figural imagery. Social laws presented in the Hadith prevented the representation of figures because any imitation was deemed idolatrous. Also, art is considered to be decorative and imitative. Script and patterns are used to decorate objects, whether they be architectural structures, prayer rugs, ceramics, and books. The geometric objects naturally led to artistic patterning and repetition. Although the Islamic community prohibited figural imagery, the community's rapid expansion during the centuries after its inception diluted the rigidity of traditional customs. Assimilated countries and cultures that practiced figural art before the Islamic armies came continued to do so. These assimilated artistic styles did utilize figural imagery, yet they still reflected the traditional artistic components of Islam. The introductory plaque at the entrance of the Islamic Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art states that Islamic art is characterized by ‘stasis,' and that even assimilated foreign styles have "always retained its intrinsic quality and unique identity." The beautifully rendered book miniatures of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp illustrate this last point wonderfully. The Shahnama, translated as "The Book of Kings," is an Iranian national epic penned by the poet Firdausi between 975-1010 AD. Centuries later, it became the custom for shahs to have their own personal copy of the Shahnama. This naturally transformed the quality of the book into...
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