03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas, 04. Later Europe & Americas, 07. Central & West Asia, Islam, Travel

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World in AP Art History

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World in AP Art History

In preparation for my NEH Summer Institute “Reverence for Words: Understanding Muslim Culture through the Arts” I received a package in the mail. This package contained your usual welcome forms and letters along with a book of poetry and a DVD, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World. I decided to plop down while folding laundry to watch the documentary. It blew me away and immediately got my teacher brain working: how can I use this in the classroom?

**Note: If you teach AP World History also, here is a link to my blog post on how Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World aligns with that course. Double whammy!

Also, I have also included the Amazon link HERE if you’re interested in purchasing the DVD.

Note: it is an affiliate link, therefore I can receive some compensation with your purchase.

The film is 90 minutes long and covers an astonishing geographic and historical landscape of the “muslim world.” It is divided into five thematic segments: Word, Space, Ornament, Water, and Color. This thematic handling of the material allows for it to cut across global boundaries noting the continuities and distinctiveness in each islamic civilization. In my classroom, I would probably use this to review the Islamic art but it is done in such an instructive manner, I don’t think it would hurt to introduce Islam either!

Note: the asterisk (*) indicates a piece from the 250 does not specifically appear in the documentary film

Folio_from_a_Qur'an_(8th-9th_century)_Sura_39Met-mihrab with me

Word

The Qur’an is the obvious thing that comes to mind with this theme, calligraphy illuminating the revelations of Allah are an all-encompassing importance in Islam. However, calligraphy goes beyond the pages of the Qur’an to the walls of mosques and other Islamic shrines. This section of the video looks at the spiritual importance of calligraphy in Islam and shows you the method of writing as well as the architectural incorporation of text.

Images from the 250 that correlate with the section “Word:”

Read more: Writing & Art

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800px-Djenne_great_mud_mosque
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Space

Architecture is the key to this section, both of mosques and courtly palaces. The video does a great job of showing the key elements of mosques from around the world in their form and function while also highlighting cultural distinctiveness from the Iberian Peninsula to Mali to the Middle East and India. The part about the palaces focuses on the lush gardens created to invoke the heavenly paradise, especially sumptuous are the scenes from the Generalife from the Alhambra in Southern Spain. Personally, it is so hard to teach what space feels like from just using still images, so this documentary is perfect to give the students a sense of what these spaces are actually like for a visitor or worshiper.

Images from the 250 that correlate with the section “Space:”

Read more: AP Art History 250: Mosque Vocabulary

IMG_1151Met-Arabic carpet with me

Ornament

This segment is about the Islamic emphasis on geometric patterning and vegetal design; from the smallest ivory box to the largest dome, everything is covered in a rich combination of complex shapes. These designs cover “everyday” objects used in the courtly life, such as carpets and water basin, to objects and spaces for religious worship, like the walls of a mosque or the covers of Qur’ans. It is wrongly assumed that Islam does not depict figural art (images depicting humans or animals), while it is true that you will not find figures in religious buildings or objects like in Christianity, they can be found all over objects used in a secular context.

Images from the 250 that correlate with the section “Ornament:”

  • #52. Hagia Sophia. Constantinople (Istanbul). anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. 532-537 CE. Brick and ceramic elements with stone and mosaic veneer.*
  • #57. Pyxis of al-Mughira. Umayyad. c. 968 CE. Ivory.*
  • #185. Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem. Islamic, Umayyad. 691-692 CE, with multiple renovations. Stone masonry and wooden roof decorated with glaze ceramic tile, mosaics, and gilt aluminum and bronze dome.
  • #186. Great Mosque (Masjid-e Jameh). Isfahan, Iran. Islamic, Persian: Seljuk, Il-Kanid, Timurid and Safavid Dynasties. c. 70 CE; additions and restorations in the 14th, 18th and 20th centuries. Stone, brick, wood, plaster, and glazed ceramic tile.*
  • #191. The Ardabil Carpet. Maqsud of Kashan. 1539-1540 CE. Silk and wool.*
  • #209. Taj Mahal. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Masons, marble workers, mosaicists, and decorators working under the supervision of Ustad Ahmad Lahori, architect of the emperor. 1632-1652 CE. Stone masonry and marble with inlay of precious and semiprecious stones; gardens.
Damascus Room-fountainIMG_4921

Water

Islam originated in the Middle East, which is a region that regularly encounters water scarcity, thereby making it more sacred in a cultural context. Muslim societies had to be creative with their water supply and storage. Islamic art celebrates water by creating gorgeous vessels for the use of water at the courts, in the gardens, and in the courtyards of mosques for the ritual purification. Water even plays an important part in Islamic cultures outside the Middle East, such as the fountains in the gardens of the Alhambra and the monsoon rains in Mali.

Images from the 250 that correlate with the section “Water:”

Read more: UNESCO: Alhambra, Generalife, & Albayzín, Granada

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Color

In places barren of water, there is typically a lack of color in nature also. Therefore, Islamic cultures in the Middle East purposely infused their lives with vibrant colors. Houses and mosques were filled with colorful rugs on the floor and glazed tile along the walls, the most famous tile color being the cobalt blue found in Iran. Coupled with the geometric patterns favored by Islam, these colors seem to dance and swirl off the surface. While in Mughal courts, the vibrancy of Hindu art is blended with Islamic style in gorgeous illuminated manuscripts.

Images from the 250 that correlate with the section “Color:”

  • #186. Great Mosque (Masjid-e Jameh). Isfahan, Iran. Islamic, Persian: Seljuk, Il-Kanid, Timurid and Safavid Dynasties. c. 70 CE; additions and restorations in the 14th, 18th and 20th centuries. Stone, brick, wood, plaster, and glazed ceramic tile.*
  • #189. Bahram Gur Fights the Karg, folio from the Great Il-Khanid Shahnama. Islamic; Persian, Il’Khanid. c. 1330-1340 CE. Ink and opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper.*
  • #190. The Court of Gayumars, folio from Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnama. Sultan Muhammad. c. 1522-1525 CE. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper.*
  • #191. The Ardabil Carpet. Maqsud of Kashan. 1539-1540 CE. Silk and wool.*
  • 208. Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings. Bitchitr. c. 1620 CE. Watercolor, gold, and ink on paper.

There’s even a film discussion guide for the classroom available HERE

JMF

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