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Islam and Visual Art

Oxford Handbooks Online

Islam and Visual Art

Margaret S. Graves
The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts
Edited by Frank Burch Brown

Print Publication Date: Feb 2014 Subject: Religion, Islam, Art, Architecture
Online Publication Date: Feb DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195176674.013.021

Abstract and Keywords

The label “Islamic art” has at times served to conflate and confuse religious and non-religious impulses within
popular understandings of the art of the lands that are now or have historically been majority Muslim. A selection of
the manifold visual expressions that relate directly to the practices of faith and religious identity in Islam are here
explored, using premodern examples to explore three different themes. The first of these presents the structural
form and decoration of some of the earliest mosques and other major religious structures of the Islamic world. The
second section considers the role of ornament, including calligraphic practices, in the elaboration and
diversification of a religious visual identity, while the third examines the most widely misunderstood aspect of
Islamic art—the purported universal aniconism of Muslim cultures—through the small extant corpus of book
paintings of religious figures, particularly the Prophet Muhammad.

Keywords: aniconism, book painting, calligraphy, Islamic art, mihrab, minbar, mosque, ornament, Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad

WHAT makes the objects referred to as “Islamic art” Islamic? Most commonly, the terms “Islamic art” and “Islamic

architecture” are used to refer to all products—not just religious artifacts—of historic cultures that were
predominantly Muslim in practice, or at least under Muslim rule; the perhaps unavoidable dominance of the art of
the elite has engendered a dynastic cultural model here as elsewhere in the history of art. However, secular
manuscripts of Persian poetry illustrated by Hindu painters working alongside Muslim artists in the Indian ateliers of
the Mughal emperors, or the Freer Gallery’s thirteenth-century metalwork canteen inlaid in an “Islamic” style with
Christian iconography, demonstrate the limitations of this definition. More fundamentally, the problem is one of
characterization. To call all the art of such cultures “Islamic” carries the misleading implication that all material
creativity in those cultures is entirely driven by religious impulses. Along with related misconceptions in common
currency—chief amongst them the belief that all art from the Islamic world entirely avoids the depiction of living
creatures—the fiction that all the arts of all Islamic cultures throughout history must be demonstrably pious has led
to some far-fetched interpretations.

In a related vein, the enormous geographical sweep of the Islamic world—in reality extending far beyond the
traditional disciplinary boundaries of the Middle East and North Africa to encompass areas of Southeast Asia, India,
western China, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe, as well as the diaspora communities in
Europe and the Americas—militates against an essentialist definition of “Islamic art.” Even the architectural
components that are in near-universal employ in mosques, such as the mihrabs described below, are subject to
huge variations in appearance and interpretation from one regional culture to another, and as Islam came to new
areas the religious arts invariably assimilated and adopted pre-existing artistic traditions, rendering impossible a
static definition of Islamic art. In truth, the negotiation of the term “Islamic art” is an ongoing exercise in Islamic art
history. The discipline has its roots in the nineteenth century, and the legacies of connoisseurship and colonialism
continue to inform a subject area that sits somewhat precariously between art history and Islamic studies. Since the
1970s, and particularly in the last twenty years, the number of practitioners in the field has grown dramatically,

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while the increased interest taken by the West in the Muslim world following the terrorist attacks of 2001 has
contributed to the growth of Islamic art history as an academic discipline and museological focus, just as it has also
had its effects in more obviously politicized scholarly arenas. In the twenty-first century Islamic art history is now,
for the first time in its existence, reaching a critical mass. The weight of this is beginning to fracture the discipline
into discrete geographical, chronological, theoretical and media specializations, and the exorcism of an essentialist
“Islamic art” from the larger framework of the discipline is underway.

As this essay is intended to provide an overview of the religious arts of Islam, this is one of the rare situations when
the term “Islamic art” can be used with impunity. The subject is of course too vast to survey here, rendering an
approach that verges on the essentialist something of a necessity. To give the reader tools for going forward, the
focus is here restricted to the pre-modern periods, but of course a diverse and fascinating body of modern and
contemporary religious visual culture also exists and some reading on this is suggested below. Only a tiny
selection of the monuments, objects, and images that exemplify material aspects of religious life in the Islamic world
will be presented. At this stage, I ask only that the reader would bear in mind that all of the things presented here
were once part of a larger sphere of human activity—the marketplace is often very close to the mosque—and also
that every object and monument is understood to have its own unique context, too rich and complex to lay out in
any detail here.

22.1 Early Religious Structures

The nature of the surviving material necessarily frames discussion of the early development of Islamic religious arts
within an architectural context. Muslim religious life has been formed around madrasas (religious schools), tombs,
shrines, and, above all, mosques. Although Muslims do not require elaborate structures in order to worship—the
Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet) record that “Wherever you pray, that place is a mosque (masjid)”—Islamic
cultures have given the world some of its most spectacular religious monuments. The rapid spread of the faith in
the first centuries of Islam was followed by a medieval period that saw the refinement and articulation of a multitude
of regional forms of Islamic visual identity, many of which found their most enduring manifestations in architectural
construction and decoration.

The early evolution of both congregational Friday mosques (jami‘)—huge structures theoretically capable of
accommodating the entire adult male population of a city for the communal noonday prayer on Fridays—and
smaller mosques (masjid) for daily salat (ritual prayer), saw the initial development of sacred architecture in Islam
encompass several different building types. The garrison towns of the early Muslim expansion witnessed the
creation of enormous oriented enclosures, refining the archetypal structure of the Prophet’s house at Medina: a
large enclosed courtyard with a columned covered area at one end, for communal prayer and the delivery of the
khutba, or Friday sermon. Following this model, most sizable mosques of the early and medieval periods comprised
a large enclosed courtyard, surrounded by arcades and often containing a fountain, while the musalla or prayer
hall was normally located at the end of the courtyard that lay in the direction of Mecca.

At the same time, early imperial mosques in ancient urban centers could incorporate extant architectural models:
the Great Mosque of Damascus (705–715) is a paradigmatic example of this, with its gabled prayer hall and
tripartite façade strongly recalling a re-oriented Christian basilica. The earliest surviving Islamic monument, the
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (completed 691), is a rather different creation, although it too makes dramatic use
of a pre-existing architectural vocabulary. While it has come to operate as a commemorative shrine to the
Prophet’s miraculous night journey and ascension (the Isra’ and Mi‘raj), the Dome of the Rock does not in fact
appear to have been built for that purpose, and the original motivations for construction have been the subject of
much discussion. The octagonal structure, with its massive golden dome dominating the skyline of Old Jerusalem,
can certainly be compared with early Christian ambulatory structures, such as the nearby Church of the Holy
Sepulchre, and, considering its supremely visible and emotionally charged site, the Dome of the Rock must be
understood in part as a triumphal monument to the new religion of Islam.

The huge mosaic programs of these two great religious buildings from the first centuries of Islam represent an
astonishingly confident early body of architectural decoration. Originally, mosaic covered both the interior and
exterior of the Dome of the Rock. Although only the interior remains, this alone comprises 1,200 square meters of
mosaic, with vine-scrolls, fantastic blooms and trees decorated with jewelry against a gold ground, and a 240-

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Islam and Visual Art

meter long inscription of Qur’anic and foundational texts in an angular script somberly set out in gold against a dark
green-blue background.

The mosaics of the Great Mosque of Damascus are rather different. Only parts remain, but the famous “Barada
panel” on the western portico and the partially restored façade allow today’s viewer a sense of how overwhelming
the original ensemble must have been. The mosaics show a landscape dominated by architecture and enormous
trees, set on a shimmering, modulated gold ground. Houses, palaces, and other structures have been executed
with superlative skill in the representational modes current in the Late Antique and Byzantine Mediterranean world,
but the architecture of the Damascus panels is strikingly unpopulated. The schema of both monuments have been
much discussed in terms of their debts to earlier Byzantine and Sasanian models of decoration and representation,
as well as their possible meanings: paradisal imagery, triumphal metaphors, a brave new world under Islam. While
not necessarily directly aped in later monuments, both mosaic programs are of the greatest significance for the
subsequent development of a vocabulary of sacred decoration. The early requirement in Islam for a model of
religious art that was not based on narrative images (see the discussion of aniconism below) gave rise to an
unparalleled richness of non-figurative forms, encompassing the curvilinear vegetal motifs and fantastic flora that
Islam has inarguably made its own; geometric designs in every conceivable permutation; a persistent fascination
with non-structural architectural elements as decoration; and the written word of God as the supreme ornament of
the faith.

22.2 The Ornaments of Religion

The high esteem in which calligraphy—“beautiful writing”—has traditionally been held in Islamic cultures derives in
large part from a theological basis. The Arabic text of the Qur’an, imparted to Muhammad through a series of
revelations, represents to believers the eternal and sacred Word of God. While the initial revelation was oral, the
Qur’anic text was soon committed to writing and Qur’anic inscriptions very quickly became a key aspect of the
ornamentation of buildings, coins, textiles, and objects from the early Islamic period onwards; thus, written Arabic
has almost invariably formed the centerpiece of Muslim identities, both public and private. But it was in copies of
the Qur’an itself that the medium of calligraphy was developed and refined to the most extraordinary degree.

The early evolution and initial predominance of the stately rectilinear script types collectively known as Kufic, in
near-universal use amongst early architectural inscriptions (as in the Dome of the Rock) and Qur’anic manuscripts,
gave way from the tenth century to a variety of rounded cursive scripts. Although Kufic continued to be used in
epigraphic contexts, and sometimes for chapter headings or verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts, the peak of
Kufic Qur’an production occurred in the ninth and tenth centuries. Magisterial examples such as the Qur’an of
Amajur (completed before 876) or the famous “Blue Qur’an” exploited the elasticity of the Arabic script, developing
a calligraphic form that could be horizontally elongated (mashq) or contracted as desired, enabling regular,
stately, and yet aesthetically pleasing compositions to be formed, page after page. The later rounded scripts were
less severe and often more legible, evolving as they had done out of chancellery scripts, and the codification of
the nascent cursive scripts under such legendary calligraphers as Ibn Muqla (d. 940) and Ibn al-Bawwab (d. 1022)
eventually gave rise to the canonical Six Pens (tawqi‘, riqa‘, thuluth, naskh, muhaqqaq, and rayhan). As the
copying and donation of the Qur’anic text represent pious acts in themselves it is little wonder that manuscripts of
the Qur’an constitute the peak of the calligrapher’s art, and of the illuminator’s. The primacy of the written text also
led to the creation of an entire class of ornament based on religious inscriptions, more or less informed by the
refinements of calligraphic practice, and visible across many media but particularly architecture.

The generic components of religious architecture have, perhaps inevitably, formed focal points for ornamentation
of all kinds through the ages. The principal liturgical requirement for a mosque is simply orientation toward the qibla
or direction of prayer, aligned with the Ka’ba in Mecca. From this directional emphasis there developed a series of
highly recognizable elements that came to characterize the functional life of the prayer hall: notable amongst
these are the minbar and the mihrab.

The first of these, the minbar, is a furnishing, although a great many examples are truly monumental in both
dimensions and decorative conception. A raised platform or canopy reached by a set of steps, the minbar is
usually placed against the qibla wall, to the right of the mihrab (see below), and is used for the pronouncement of
the khutba at Friday prayer; as such, the minbar is normally employed only in congregational mosques Minbars

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could be made of stone, or brick decorated with glazed tile, but by far the most common material is wood: many of
the finest surviving examples of medieval Islamic woodwork are found on minbars, with complex designs created
through carving and inlaying. A right-angled triangle in shape, the minbar presents a large surface for decoration
on two sides. The earliest surviving minbar, in the Great Mosque of Qayrawan, Tunisia, is thought to date to the
ninth century. That example is ornamented on both sides with teak panels carved with a multiplicity of small
geometric and curvilinear grilles, some of them framed within tiny sprung arches. Later examples of the minbar
from the central and eastern Islamic lands show a greater propensity toward complex repeating geometric designs,
such as the strapwork star-and-polygon designs of the beautiful ebony minbar, dated 1155, in the Alaeddin
mosque at Konya, Turkey.

From an early stage, one element above all others came to be a consistent focus of ornamentation within religious
architecture: the mihrab. Essentially a recessed, arcuated niche in the qibla wall, from its first appearance in
Islamic structures in the early eighth century the mihrab quickly became the primary component in the
construction of a specifically Islamic category of sacred space, and a mihrab will be found in virtually every
mosque and madrasa, and in many tombs. Nominally, it functions as an orientational device. The origins of both the
name and the form of this architectural construct continue to provoke dispute, while attempts to isolate meaning in
the form have been even more fraught. In time, this simple directional marker came to accommodate a remarkably
broad range of mystic and popular interpretations, some of which were directly reflected in the diverse ornamental
programs that grew up around the mihrab. While concerns about distraction from devotion have at times impacted
on the ornamentation of the mihrab, particularly the central field, one of the most frequently utilized and apparently
unproblematic forms of mihrab ornament is that of Qur’anic texts inscribed around the arch, sometimes in great
number, creating a complex frame of sacred words. This form of decoration is exemplified in the lustre-tile mihrabs
of thirteenth-century Iran, one of which is displayed in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin (inv. No. I.5366).

The imagery of the mihrab is somewhat complicated by its multiplication as a mobile iconographic unit: the
distinction drawn between the recessed mihrab and its two-dimensional counterpart, the surat mihrab (“mihrab
image”), is not always clear, and also need not mean that the “mihrab image” did not also function as a mihrab. In
both the three- and two-dimensional incarnations of the mihrab, the arched outline appears to have suggested the
notion of a portal from an early stage. The introduction of vegetal and floral decoration, which reached something
of an apogee in the Iranian cut-tile mihrabs of the Safavid period such as that in the Shaykh Lutfallah Mosque in
Isfahan (1617), brought an implicit paradisal association to the mihrab, furthering the impression of a point of
transition to a different spiritual realm.

Most striking of all elaborations of the mihrab, however, is the interpolation of the image of a vase-shaped hanging
lamp into the central field. Surviving examples of this phenomenon date from the twelfth century onwards. Rather
than reading the image as a literal representation of a hanging lamp, of a type widely associated with the
illumination and demarcation of sacred space, this should be understood as a visualization of the metaphors of
illumination enshrined in Qur’an 24:35 (the Ayat al-Nur or “Light Verse”). Within the Qur’anic text the lamp is drawn
as a metonymic representation of God, and by extension can also be understood to represent the illumination
granted by the Qur’anic revelation. Medieval Sufistic texts such as the Mishkat al-Anwar (“Niche of Lights”) by al-
Ghazali (1058–1111) expanded the mystical dimensions of the metaphor, and probably contributed to the
popularity of the image. The circulation of the mihrab image with hanging lamp was also effected through its
frequent use on semi-architectural materials such as grave stele, tile friezes and prayer rugs (sajjada). Indeed, the
image is possibly best known from prayer rugs, used to protect the worshipper in a state of ritual purity from
performing prayer on unclean ground. Although early prayer mats must have been considerably less ornate,
almost every surviving prayer rug is ornamented with, and indeed defined by, the arch-shaped image of a mihrab.
The iconography of the prayer rug is an exemplar of the transference of forms across media, and parallel
tendency toward multivalence, that can be argued as recurring tropes in the religious arts of the Islamic world.

22.3 Aniconism and the Image

The scriptural origins of Islamic aniconism lie not in any Qur’anic text but rather in certain Hadith, or Traditions of
the Prophet, which stress the dangers of idolatry stemming from the creation of images, as well as the
presumptuousness of the artist. Only God can create life, leading to concerns over the usurpation of divine
prerogative through the creation of lifelike images. The best-known Hadiths on the subject warn that on the Day of

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Judgment all artists will be called upon to breathe life into their creations, which command they will of course be
unable to fulfill, and they will be punished accordingly. Naturally, such strictures concerning images of living things
have not been approached uniformly down the ages. While some historic cultures have been notable for their
overall avoidance of figurative arts—some of the Mamluks of Egypt, for example, favored calligraphic motifs in
metalwork where their predecessors had used figures—others are characterized by an obvious enjoyment of
figuration. The proliferation of the human image that took place in the arts of Seljuq Iran, for instance, or Fatimid
Egypt, amply subverts the notion of a blanket aniconism at work throughout all Muslim cultures.

It would appear, however, that an intentional differentiation between the types of imagery employed in the secular
and the religious spheres was in existence from an early stage. The mosaic programs of the Dome of the Rock in
Jerusalem and the Great Mosque of Damascus were indicative of future developments in their emphatic aniconism:
as intimated above, the vast majority of medieval religious buildings have been ornamented in ways that
scrupulously avoid images of animals or people. However, certain images that might not have been possible in
highly visible architectural decoration were able to develop in the more exclusive medium of illustrated books, and
luxury manuscripts are the major source for pre-modern images of religious figures. While the imagery associated
with the ahl al-Bayt (“People of the House,” meaning the family of the Prophet), as well as earlier prophets and
various holy men, is also of great interest, it is representations of the Prophet Muhammad that have garnered the
most scholarly attention to date, and the most controversy.

Reservations about depicting the person of the Prophet undoubtedly inhibited the development of a large or widely
dispersed cycle of such images, and much of the surviving material has been intentionally mutilated, but from the
thirteenth century onwards such images were indeed created within the rapidly evolving miniature-painting genre
of Iran and the surrounding areas. Relatively small cycles of events from the life of the Prophet are illustrated in
history texts, such as the 1307 manuscript of the Athar al-Baqiya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliya (Chronology of Ancient
Nations) of al-Biruni and its near-contemporary, the Jami‘ al-Tawarikh (Compendium of Histories) of Rashid al-Din,
while the Ottoman Sultan Murad III commissioned the largest cycle of images of the Prophet ever made in the
copiously illustrated six-volume Siyar-i Nabi (Life of the Prophet) created in the imperial workshops of sixteenth-
century Istanbul.1 The image of the Prophet’s night journey, which took him from the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca to
“the farthest place of worship” (al-Masjid al-Aqsa, generally interpreted as Jerusalem) and thence to the heavens,
also appears in textual encomia and their accompanying illustrations in a number of poetic texts created in Iranian,
Indian, and Turkish painting traditions. A complex iconography developed out of the rich exegetical writings
surrounding this enigmatic Qur’anic event, including most commonly the fabulous winged steed Buraq, the angel
Jibril (Gabriel), and the Ka‘ ba in Mecca. In many later images, Muhammad the Prophet’s face is covered with a veil
to circumvent concerns about depicting the features of the Prophet, and visual symbols are occasionally employed
in place of mimetic depiction, as also occurs in some prayer manuals. A golden disk inscribed with the name of
Muhammad, a surrogate for the image of the Prophet’s body mounted on Buraq in one ascension illustration,
embodies the theological construct of the Prophet as the light source of the world (Nur Muhammad or “Light of
Muhammad”),2 a concept also visualized in the flaming nimbus that is often depicted around Muhammad’s head. It
should be noted that anthropomorphized images of the Divine, i.e., God, are unsurprisingly absent from the
religious painting traditions of Islam.

22.4 Conclusions

While this essay has sketched out some of the major artistic manifestations of religious life in Islam, it has only been
possible to acknowledge certain key subjects and images in passing—the recurring Qur’anic image of paradise as
a verdant garden, for example, or the topographical and symbolic imagery of pilgrimage manuals and certificates—
that have played a pivotal role in religious visual identity within certain Islamic cultures. Equally importantly for the
religious arts, esoteric interpretations of Islam have at times led to a cross-pollination of mystical ideas and
nominally secular subjects. This can be seen in the wine-drinking and amorous themes of the Persian poetry of
Hafiz and Sadi, for example, and in the reflection of those mystic tropes, concerning the quest for spiritual union
with the Beloved, within accompanying manuscript illustrations. The development of a highly refined Sufi mysticism
in medieval cultures of the Iranian plateau had a powerful impact on artistic developments in the region, and
aspects of this mystic sensibility were transferred, via the Timurid dynasty of Iran and Central Asia, to sixteenth-
century Islamic India under the Mughals, as well as later Iranian cultures.

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Intriguingly, within the English-language history of Islamic art there are few survey texts that focus specifically and
sustainedly on the material aspects of religious life. One recent exception to this is Baker’s Islam and the Religious
Arts, which is also notable for continuing its themes up to the contemporary era and into popular culture, as well as
its admirably broad geographical conception of the Islamic world (although the author’s specialization in Iranian art
brings that country to the fore). Another is Wright’s Islam: Faith, Art, Culture, which examines Muslim religious life
as refracted through the world-class manuscript collections of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. The relative
sparseness of earlier texts dedicated specifically and comprehensively to the religious arts may result from the
nineteenth- and twentieth-century disciplinary construct of an “Islamic art” that tended to frame the entire cultural
production of the Islamic world in religious terms, as well as the perceived difficulty of separating the sacred from
the secular in Islamic cultures. In many ways the study of the religious arts in Islam is best undertaken by reading
the survey texts above in tandem with shorter articles and book chapters on specific religious materials; because
of the youth of the subject area, as well as the comparatively small number of practitioners, much relevant material
is to be found in scholarly articles rather than in more widely accessible monographs.

Overall, a disciplinary movement away from the idea of a monolithic Islamic culture has taken place over recent
decades, turning instead toward the acknowledgment and examination of alterity and plurality. The breadth of
knowledge and expertise demonstrated by Islamic art historians of a previous generation, chief amongst them
Richard Ettinghausen (d. 1979) and Oleg Grabar (d. 2011), is being augmented by an increasing number of closely
focused specialists as the field expands, particularly in the United States. In common with developments taking
place elsewhere in the humanities, interests in historiography, reflexivity, and critical theory are growing. Some of
of the most exciting research being undertaken in Islamic art history today interweaves close studies of material
with theoretical approaches, and exhibits a growing fascination with the role of earlier authors’ worldviews in
shaping our understanding of the subjects of study. Such methods are symptomatic of the subject area’s
increasing alignment with larger developments in art history.

References and Suggested Reading

Don Aanavi, “Devotional Writing: ‘Pseudoinscriptions’ in Islamic Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin,
vol. 26, no. 9 (1968), pp. 353–358.

Thomas Arnold, Painting in Islam: A Study of the Place of Pictorial Art in Muslim Culture, Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1928, rev. ed. New York: Dover, 1965.

Eva Baer, Ayyubid Metalwork with Christian Images, Leiden: Brill, 1989.

Patricia L. Baker, Islam and the Religious Arts, London: Continuum, 2003.

Sheila S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008.

Jonathan M. Bloom, Ahmed Toufiq et al., The Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque, New Haven, CT/ London: Yale
University Press, 1998.

P. Chelkoswki, “Popular Religious Art in the Qajar Period” in N. Pourjavady, ed., The Splendour of Iran: Volume III,
London: Booth-Clibborns Editions, 2001, pp. 324–341.

K. A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, reprint of 1932–1940 publ., 2 vols. in 3, New York: Hacker Art Books,
c. 1969 and 1979.

James Dickie, “The Iconography of the Prayer Rug,” Oriental Art, 18 (1972), pp. 41–49.

Richard Ettinghausen et al., Prayer Rugs, Washington DC: Textile Museum, 1974.

Géza Fehérvári, “Tombstone or Mihrab? A Speculation,” in Richard Ettinghausen, ed., Islamic Art in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972, pp. 241–254.

Carol Garrett Fisher 1984, “A Reconstruction of the Pictorial Cycle of the ‘Siyar-i Nabi’ of Murad III,” Ars Orientalis,
14 (1984), pp. 75–94.

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Finbarr B. Flood, “Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum,” Art Bulletin, vol. 84,
no. 4 (2002), pp. 641–659.

Finbarr B. Flood, “From the Prophet to Postmodernism? New World Orders and the End of Islamic Art,” in Elizabeth
Mansfield, ed., Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and Its Institutions, London/New York: Routledge, 2007,
pp. 31–53.

Alain George, “Calligraphy, Colour and Light in the Blue Qur’an,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2009),
pp. 75–125.

Alain George, The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy, London: Saqi Books, 2010.

Lisa Golombek, “The Draped Universe of Islam,” in Priscilla Soucek, ed., Content and Context of Visual Arts in the
Islamic World, University Park, PA/London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988, pp. 25–50.

Oleg Grabar, “The Earliest Islamic Commemorative Structures, Notes and Documents,” Ars Orientalis, 4 (1966), pp.

Oleg Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, rev. ed., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

Oleg Grabar, The Mediation of Ornament, Princeton NJ: Princeton, University Press, 1992.

Oleg Grabar, The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Oleg Grabar, “Art and Architecture and the Qur’an,” first published in Jane D. McAuliffe, ed., Encyclopedia of the
Qur’an, vol. 1, Leiden, 2001, pp. 161–175; republ. in Early Islamic Art 650–1100, vol. I: Constructing the Study of
Islamic Art, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2005, pp. 87–104.

Christiane J. Gruber, “The Prophet Muhammad’s Ascension (Mi’raj) in Islamic Painting and Literature: Evidence from
Cairo Collections,” Bulletin of the American Research Center in Egypt, 185 (2004), pp. 24–31.

Christiane J. Gruber, “Between Logos (Kalima) and Light (Nur): Representations of the Prophet Muhammad in Islamic
Painting,” Muqarnas, 26 (2009), pp. 229–262.

Christiane J. Gruber, The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images, Bloomington:
Indiana University (forthcoming, 2015).

Perween Hasan, “The Footprint of the Prophet,” Muqarnas, 10 (1993), pp. 335–343.

Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, Islam: Art and Architecture, Königswinter: Könemann, 2004.

Robert Hillenbrand, “Islamic Art, §1: Introduction, 8. Subject Matter,” in Jane Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art, vol.
XVI, London: Grove, 1996, pp. 127–140.

Robert Hillenbrand, Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press,

Eva R. Hoffman, “Christian–Islamic Encounters on Thirteenth-Century Ayyubid Metalwork: Local Culture,

Authenticity and Memory,” Gesta, vol. 43 no. 2 (2004), pp. 129–142.

Nuha N. N. Khoury, “The Mihrab Image: Commemorative Themes in Islamic Architecture,” Muqarnas, 9 (1992), pp.

Nuha N. N. Khoury, “The Mihrab: From Text to Form,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 30, no. 1
(1998), pp. 1–27.

Mika Natif, “The Painter’s Breath and Concepts of Idol Anxiety in Islamic Art,” in Josh Ellenbogen and Aaron
Tugendhaft, eds., Idol Anxiety, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011, pp. 41–55.

Katharina Otto-Dorn, “Figural Stone Reliefs on Seljuk Sacred Architecture in Anatolia,” Kunst des Orients, XII, part 1
(1978–1979), pp. 101–149.

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Islam and Visual Art

Nasser Rabbat, “Ajib and Gharib: Artistic Perception in Medieval Arab Sources,” The Medieval History Journal, vol.
9, no. 1 (2006), pp. 99–114.

Nasser Rabbat, “What is Islamic Architecture Anyway?,” in Moya Carey and Margaret S. Graves, eds., Islamic Art
Historiography (special issue of The Journal of Art Historiography), 2012,

Kishwar Rizvi, “Art,” in Jamal J. Elias, ed., Key Themes for the Study of Islam, Oxford: Oneworld, 2010, pp. 6–25.

David J. Roxburgh, Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an, Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2007.

Boaz Shoshan, “High Culture and Popular Culture in Medieval Islam,” Studia Islamica, 73 (1991), pp. 67–107.

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Booth-Clibborns Editions, 2001, pp. 312–323.

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Nour Foundation, 1997, pp. 16–71.

Elaine Wright, Islam: Faith, Art, Culture, London: Scala, 2009.


(1) . The 1307 al-Biruni manuscript is in Edinburgh University Library (Arab 161). Three illustrated manuscripts of
sections of the Jami‘ al-Tawarikh of Rashid al-Din are known: Edinburgh University Library (Arab 120); a volume
dated 714H/1314–1315 CE in the Khalili Collection, London; and a volume dated 1314, in the Topkapi Palace
Libraries in Istanbul (H. 1653). The six-volume Siyar-i Nabi (‘Life of the Prophet’) is now dispersed.

(2) . Makhzan al-asrar (“Treasury of Secrets”) of Nizami, western India, ms dated 1441, Topkapi Palace Library H.
744, illustrated in Gruber 2009, fig. 11.

Margaret S. Graves
Margaret S. Graves is Assistant Professor of Islamic art and architecture at Indiana University, Bloomington. She received her Ph.D.
from the University of Edinburgh in 2010 for her thesis on miniature architectural forms in the art of the medieval Islamic world, and
has published articles in a number of peer-reviewed journals, edited volumes and exhibition catalogues on subjects ranging from
the plastic arts of medieval Iran to the disciplinary discomfort with nineteenth-century Islamic art. Most recently she co-edited a
special issue of the Journal of Art Historiography on the historiography of Islamic art (June 2012) and edited Islamic Art, Architecture
and Material Culture: New Perspectives.

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