What was the subject matter of early Islamic art?

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epic-art-time | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Early Islamic art is almost exclusively decorative in nature.  It refers to the work specifically created to adorn the furnishings and walls of the mosques created for the new Muslim faith which started in the year 622.  There was some figurative work made for secular purposes or for the purpose of illustrating Muslim texts.   For the most part, however, artists were discouraged from creating an image of any living thing because that was seen as something that God alone should do.

It was acceptable for artists to work figuratively, if the figures were part of a decorative pattern and not the focus of the whole picture.  Other than these figurative patterns, there are 3 major trends in the designs of early Islamic art: calligraphy patterns, vegetal patterns, and geometric patterns.

Calligraphy patterns were entirely composed of letters that oftentimes spelled out blessings or the name of the current sultan.  There are some pieces of early Islamic art in which a written name seems to be the major subject matter itself, and that name is itself adorned with calligraphic blessing patterns.

Vegetal patterns were composed of decorative lines that resemble flora and fauna, vines and leaves.

Geometric patterns were created by layering geometric shapes into balanced symmetrical patterns that sometimes resemble flowers or sunbursts.

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