Happy New Year 2010

Just a short shoutout.

Happy New Year 2010 for all my readers and visitors! May the new year bring new hopes and dreams for all of us.


Study – Types of Zillij

In this post, we will attempt to look to different types of Zillij tiles and how to distinguish one another (any corrections or comments would be very much appreciated!).It is a hard task and very confusing should we not look closely to the types available for Zillij tiles, but with close inspection to details, you should be able to differenciate between the types and further appreciate the art of these geometrical beauty. There is only a few types for Zillij so no worries about getting lost too early.

As you may have read from the earlier post regarding Zillij/Zellige, you should have known the background of this awe-inspiring artwork. However, let me refresh you on some of the basic and fundamental facts about Zillij.

Zillij (or alternatively spelled Zellige) is tilework covered with enamel in forms of chips set into plaster. It is mainly utilized for Moroccan and Andalusian architecture, however it is now used for many Muslim countries, mainly in North Africa. It is a type of ornamentation used mainly for walls, floors, ceilings, pools, fountains, pillars and household items like tables and such. Zalayji in Moroccan Arabic means the craftsman who works on Zillij.

Now with the basic facts explained, we shall look into the types of Zillij tiling.

  • Ankabuti – Arabic for spider. It is a design extensively using geometric patterns all around. It is named as such because it resembles spider webs. The story behind it is that the Prophet Muhammad, when he was in fleeing from Mecca from the infidels of Quraisy Tribe, he went into hiding in a cave beside his companion Abu Bakar As-Siddiq. It is said that once the prophet entered the cave, spiders built their nests in the entrance of the cave, making a curtain of web. When the hunting Quraisy men went to the cave, they dismissed the place as the hideout of the prophet, seeing the intact spiderweb in the entry. Hence, the spiders saved the propeht, and that is why it is forbidden (Arabic – haram) for a muslim to kill one. The Ankabuti zillij pattern took its inspiration from this story. It is said to signify mass of people, however I could not fathom any more information about this significance.
  • Example of Ankabuti style pattern Zillij in Medresa Bou Inania in Fez, Morocco.

  • Kufi – also a name for a type of calligraphy style, the Kufi, as far as I know and with par with the calligraphic counterpart, is the straight geometric lines pattern Zillij. It probably utilizes straight lines to form a symmetrical pattern, using different colours to add interest and break the monotony.

An example of Kufi style Zillij in Medresa Bou Inania, Fez, Morocco

  • Tawriq – A leaf type pattern of Zillij. It is quite distinguishable from the others for its use of curves that resembles leaves, and as always, arranged in a geometrical symmetrical fashion.

An example of Tawriq tessellation in Alhambra, Spain.

  • Tashjir – Zillij Design in a form of a tree. Not necessarily a whole tree but resembles a tree with interwoven stems and branches. It is different than the tile panels of Iznik and central Asia (in terms of tree and vegetal represntation) where trees are literally representation of trees growing from a vase, whereas the Tashjir design the stems and branches intertwine in a symmetrical pattern.
    Fabrizio Saudino / CC BY-NC 3.0f

    Zillij Tiling in Alhambra, Spain. Note the Tashjir style Zillij around the doors.

  • TestirGeometric interlace design around a star in a Zillij pattern. Perhaps one of the most used and known styles of Zillij. The design revolves and blooms around a star while the lines interlace.

Details of a fountain in Morocco – a perfect example of Testir Zillij style.

Gaga over Geometry Monday #4 – Computer Islamic Art

It is unbelievable that I have been posting on this blog for four weeks now -give or take a few days , it is almost a month. The first time I started this blog, I wanted to discuss the geometric patterns of Islamic Art, but now it extends to the general view of the art form. Nevertheless, it gave me so much pleasure to write this blog, and along the way, I have learned so many things about Islamic art, my own culture and religion, that before never caught my interest and imaginations and much as now.

For this edition of Gaga over Geometry Monday (I guess it should be renamed Imagining Islamic Aesthetics Monday from now on, because the subjects is going slowly off topic – let me know what you think!) we shall look into computer generated Islamic art.

In addition to the perfect computer generated examples of  Islamic art that is Taprats , I have some more computer generated Islamic Art in my hard drive . Filed under my picture folder, it is actually a series of borders intended for embellishments of invitation and greeting cards. Among the borders and the decorations inside the folders there are a number of good Islamic (or Islamic-inspired) ones.

This is one of my favourite, and it earns the top place, as you can see. I love the colours used, subtle and not too bright, and the Arabesques are perfectly aligned and symmetrical. Note the interlacing design.

The ubiquitous eight point star shape. I can imagine the artist who did this took his/her inspiration from the tiles product of Turkey or Central Asia. In real world, this design would be accompanied by a cross, to fill in the space between each stars.

This is also one of my favourite, though I edited some of the colours, so it is not the original (and I accidentally overwrite the pic. The turquoise parts are actually dark maroon, if you would be interested in imagining how the original looked like). This pattern would actually be seen in mostly in Zellige tilings in Morocco.

One of the border example in the folder. I think this border would be used for decoration of calligraphy. Note the arabesques, the intertwining leaves and stems that flourish from a central flower design.

One of the black-and-white design. It is a medallion design with arabesques border. This is where we can see how the arabesques are in play with geometrical design and how symmetrical everything are.

Study – Terms and Definitions of Islamic Art and Architecture 2

Before this we discussed the terms and definitions of Islamic Architecture (click here to visit the said post) where we looked at some of the most common architectural element of an Islamic – secular or religious – buildings.

In this post we shall attempt to look at some of the terms and definitions of Islamic art, whether used on buildings or items of daily life.Note that this is a listing of visual art forms, so performing arts or music will not be discussed.

  • Calligraphy (ﺧﻂ) – The art of calligraphy, usually denotes Arabic calligraphy in this sense. It ranges from the cursive forms of Thulth and Nasakh to the square, angular forms of Kufic. It is a versaitle artform, decorating from mosques to public building to of course manuscripts.

    A page of an Ilkhanid Koran, Il-Khanate (1256-1353 A.D.) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, from the user – Danieliness

  • Arabesques – The art form involving usage of floral or vegetal motifs.It is basically scroll of leaf and stems intertwining to create an interlacing  geometric system. It is usually utilized alongside geometrical patterns and calligraphy, and is one of the major form of Islamic Aesthetic. One of the finest example would be the Iznik ceramics.

Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem) interior, from March 1914 National Geographic Magazine.

  • Geometric Designs – I haven’t founded any Arabic term for general Geometric Design. It is a design or pattern consisting geometrical shapes and stars arranged in a manner that will be symmetrical. It is used mostly for tile decoration (Zillij) or generally for buildings, but it is also found on various daily items such as plates, dishes or silverware.

Ornamental element of the door to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Author – Pawel Ryszawa. Taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

  • Miniatures – usually done in Persia, modern day Iran. It is a singular artwork or a collection of miniatures arranged as a book  done for an illuminated manuscript. Usually depicts stories of Persian myth, however, religious (in this context, Islamic) story depiction in miniatures are not uncommon. Even though in Islam it is forbidden to depict human or animal forms, this type of art exists, even though it is not as widespread throughout the Islamic world as it is in the case of the former 3 categories.

Story of Mejnūn – In the Wilderness, 1507, Rozat-ol-Anwar (Khaju’s Collection), Golestan Palace

These four decorations are very often used, either together or singularly, whether for buildings or palaces or mosques, or manuscripts and books, or even daily household items. They are used extensively throughout the Arabic world and also the Islamic world generally.

Islamic art facade. Museumsinsel, Berlin, Germany. Author – Adamantios. Taken from the
Wikimedia Commons

The picture above is a perfect example of all of the art forms into one space. (Click on the picture for a closer view). Note The arabesques all around the facade, the miniatures flanking the doors, calligraphy above it and geometrical design on the doors itself.


Appreciation – İznik Tiles

İznik Tiles is the type of ceramics developed and generally created in a town named (obviously) İznik in Turkey. It has a significant place in Turkish art, since it decorates many of Turkey’s famous landmarks and finest artifacts. This is especially apparent when 1989 was proclaimed İznik Year because of the ceramics contribution to Turkish (specifically art) History.

History of the Iznik, its Ceramics and Pottery.

İznik is a town in Turkey that sits near the Lake İznik. The site of this town is formerly known as Nicaea, famous for the Councils of Nicaea. It is founded by one of Alexander The Great’s successor, Lysimakhos, who named the town after his wife. As it is one of a crossroad for a trade route, it became a great important trading city. Greek, Roman and Byzantine traders frequent the city and also settled there as well – this can be seen from the remnants of Roman theatre. It is a significant site for Christianity as well, for it held Councils of Nicaea. In 325AD, during the reign of Constantine, the first Council of Nicaea was held against the Arian Heresy, which in turn decides one of the most fundamental part of Christian theology – the argument of whether Jesus is a divinity or a mere mortal. The doctrine of the Trinity was then decided in 381AD, where it consists of Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit. The second Council of Nicaea met in 787AD held in the Church of Hagia Sophia (modeled after the one in Constantinople) where it decides the issue of Iconography in Christian belief. It was briefly ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century, but was again under the rule of the Second Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Orhan Gazi I in 1331.

The city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell in 1453, and with that the importance of İznik also dwindle. However, it later became famous for its pottery making in the 17th century, called İznik Çini (Çini basically means Chinese in Turkish) copying the Chinese porcelain preferred by the Turkish Sultans. It was used to decorate many buildings, for example mosques (for example the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul) and palaces (Topkapi Palace). It remained the place for quality İznik Çini, however, soon after the industry went to Istanbul.

Plate with blue and white spiral decoration. Earthenware with painted decoration on slip, under lead glaze, İznik ceramic, ca. 1530–1540. photographer – Marie-Lan Nguyen. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The Designs and its Origins –
Chinese porcelain was very popular and sought after by the wealthy by the 14th Century, so İznik potters was to compete with the fine imported porcelains. They copied Chinese Porcelains from  the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. they can easily copy them because the motifs already influenced early Timurid art. It gained the favours of not only local patrons but also their European counterpart. The style of blue designs with floral and vegetal motifs characteristic of the İznik tiles are called Baba Nakkas, a popular style during the rule of Sultan Mehmet II. However the style gradually changes during the reign of Sultan Bayezid with the incorporation of interlaced designs and Chinese cloud bands. During the reign of Sultan Selim I, the industry moved to Istanbul in which the Saz design was introduced, pioneered by one of the sixteen painters named Sah Kulu. His designs include spiral scrolls – the so-called Golden Horn – derived from Tughras (Royal Seals) of the Sultans, particularly the Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent.

the colours are traditionally blue and white, but turquoise was added in the 1530s. In the 1540s, more colours in the shades of  mauve, purples and greens were added. The designs, as noted above, mostly derived from the Chinese motifs, but soon after, motifs such as human or animal representations are introduced. Perhaps the most popular representations and motifs used by the İznik potters are extensive designs of flowers, trees, pomegranates and artichokes as well as hyacinths, lilies, tulips, carnations, roses, scrollwork and geometric designs. The craftsmen created many items from decorations for buildings to daily items such as plates, bowls, ewer, lamps, candlesticks, vases and the like. The best ones are produced during the reign of  Suleyman the Magnificent up till the 17th Century.

Tile panel with flowers. Earthenware, transparent glaze, painted underglaze on slip. Turkey: Iznik, second half of the 16th century

History – Early History of Islamic Art

Islam was founded in 610AD by the prophet Muhammad, when he received his first revelations from the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) in the Cave of Hira. In Islam, he is not considered a divinity or a figure of worship, like Jesus do, but simply regarded as the Prophet of God and the Seal of the Prophets.

In this period of Islamic infancy, between 610AD and 632AD, the monotheistic religion grows, orders from God (Allah) were commanded and His prohibitions were observed. By this time as well, the prohibition from God through His prophet regarding the figural representation of humans and animals was imposed, for the fears of it might incite idolatry amongst the early believers of Islam.

Narrated Aisha: (mother of the faithful believers) I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle . (Please let me know) what sin I have done?” Allah’s Apostle said, “What about this cushion?” I replied, “I bought it for you to sit and recline on.” Allah’s Apostle said, “The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, ‘Put life in what you have created (i.e. painted).’ ” The Prophet added, “The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures. – Sahih Bukhari

Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet entered upon me while there was a curtain having pictures (of animals) in the house. His face got red with anger, and then he got hold of the curtain and tore it into pieces. The Prophet said, “Such people as paint these pictures will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection .”

This two Hadiths (Prophet Traditions) represent the prophet’s displease regarding the representation of human and animal forms. The painters were threatened with the promises of punishment in the afterlife. The prophet gave warning for those who painted these human or animal forms that in the Day of Resurrection, citing that God will mock them challenge them to give life to what they have reproduced, for they are mimicking the act of God creating lifeforms. He also said that any house that have paintings (and in other prophetic traditions, dogs) would not be entered by angels, whom, in Islamic faith, would bring to households and the family who live within their fortune for each day.

So with this prohibition of human and animal representation, how would an Islamic artisan utilize and express their creativity?

The Influences of Islamic Art in the Infancy of Islam –

During the time period where Islam first emerged, the empires of Sassanid, Persian, Roman and Byzantine were their neighbours. Hence, Islamic artisans took their inspirations and influenced by the neighbouring empires, until it was said that the artifacts from this Islamic period was not distinguishable to the artifacts from the other kingdoms.

Influences from these empires includes for example, the imagery of kings as a warrior and lions as a symbol of nobility and virility taken from the Sassanid Empire, and influences of Roman motifs in the pottery produced in this period.Many unglazed ceramics were produced in this period, with vegetal motifs decoration. This could be said that they get their inspirations from the Persian or Sassanid Empires. Coinage and metalwork are imported and traded with the Byzantine empire, and subsequently utilized for decoration as well as inspiration for their own creations.

Absorbing the influences and creating their own

With the influences from the neighbouring empires, it is not easy to distinguish their artifacts from those produced by their contraries. However, by time, with the assimilation and amalgamation of these artistic cultures, the Islamic artisans have created, even though still a shadow of their counterparts, their unique interpretation and creation of their own artistic  creativity.Their creations are very simple and not full of decoration, showing that the artisans are still trying to perfect their artworks.

The Muslim artisans utilized the vegetal and floral pattern on small, every day items such as ewer, plates and generally ceramics, since decoration on building is still basically non-existant (The first mosque built by the prophet is no more but with pillars of palm trunks and roofs of date-palm leaves). Even though the Hadith regarding the humanoid and animal imagery were given in this time period, there are still some examples of animal forms in pottery. The ceramics were also decorated with calligraphy done in the Kufic style – the same style used for the writing of Quran manuscripts.

Metalworks are also being developed back then, using techniques and artforms used by the Sassanid empire. Many of the metalwork produced have typical Sassanid silhouette, and have the similar decorative motifs.

Bowl with Vegetal and floral motifs.

A spouted ewer with epigraph “Drink from it

ﺃﺸﺮﺐ ﻓﻴﻬﺄ / May it be to your health”

The base of a bottle with decoration influenced by the Roman artistic culture.

Pictures courtesy of – http://www.lacma.org/islamic_art/eia.htm

ﺄﻬﻴﻓ ﺏﺮﺸﺃ

Gaga over Geometry Monday #3 – Iznik Tiles

So even though the basic concept of Gaga over Geometry and subsequently the whole blog itself drifts away from the idea of Geometric Design into the General Islamic Art, I will still name this weekly post as Gaga over Geometry. But hey, most of the Islamic Art involves Geometrical pattern and symmetry, so I guess it is okay.

Our focus for today is the Iznik ceramics. Iznik is a name of a town in western Anatolia, Turkey famous for its production of colourful pottery and tiles with floral motifs. We will discuss about the Iznik ceramics in more details in a few more posts.

In the meanwhile, let us see some of the examples of these ceramics.

This is one of the Iznik tile decoration in Selimiye Mosque in the Edirne, Turkey. Note the Chinese like motif in the forms of floral and vegetal pattern.

This is a Saz-style panel of Iznik pottery now being displayed in the Louvre, France. It seems that the Iznik tile artisans while taking their inspirations from floral and vegetal motifs, they also took their patterns from peacock feathers.

This is another example of Iznik Tiling. This particular speciment is taken from the Enderun Library in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. You can note that the preferred colours used are shades of blue and ochre, along with greens.

An Iznik pottery plate, presumably in a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This is an example to show you that the Iznik Pottery is not limited to just for architectural decoration, but to daily items as well. Look how similar it is to the traditional China – the blue colours and the floral and vegetal motif. This is clearly to say that the artisans of these fine artworks took their inspirations from Chinese articles.

Another excellent example of daily life pottery, this time in the form of a lamp for a mosque. This particular example is presumably from a museum in Lyon, France. Note, like the last example, the similarity of this one to China pottery.