Monthly Archives: February 2010

Observations – Islamic Art Usage

For this one, I would like to put forward the usage of Islamic art namely Geometric and Arabesques in religious and secular environs. You would be surprised how much these geometrical art and patterns are used all throughout. I have been meaning to post this for quite some time, but the pics I took sits stubbornly in my mobile phone, not wanting to be transferred…until now.

This is a piece of stamped paper I got from Singapore. You see, while I was in transit to Bali, I had some few hours at Changi, Singapore’s airport. There was quite some interesting places to go in the terminals, and an Asian Art exhibit was one of them. There were this nifty, antique press mechanisms that were presented there, along with small stick-0n note sized papers and visitors are encouraged to use the machines to produce these beautiful relief art on the papers. There were lotuses, floral motifs, animal reliefs and of course this eight-pointed star, for which the exhibition referred to as basic Islamic art.

I took this in a small mosque in Denpasar, Bali. I was there for a week, and I had to perform my friday prayers. Mind you, I have to take this using my small camera phone (2MP), because a conventional, point-and-shoot cameras would garner too much attention. The decor around the mosque is nothing typically Islamic, mostly south-east asian decor, but my eyes were set to this chandelier. It utilizes star shaped prisms glass encasement arranged in such a way that it resembles Muqarnas, the decoration most prominent in Central Asia and in Andalusian Spain.

I took this one in Brunei, at the International Convention Centre. We went there for a consumer fair and a media fair for the local TV station. This particular one is actually a stairway railing, done in iron. I was waiting for my nephew and nieces to do their colouring (there was a colouring contest) and I didn’t notice it at first, but soon I saw the geometrical shape I immediately produced my phone camera and took a pic. It looks great, I would love to have something like it installed in my own home!

This is how the railing looks like in its entirety, if you are interested in knowing how it looks like. The star is confined in a box, and added with some x-shaped decorations around it, to fill the awkward void in between the levels.

Believe it or not, this is fencing for a military camp! Actually, a military camp and the Ministry of Defense of Brunei Darussalam nearby. Sorry for a rather low quality pic, it is zoomed in to maximum level on my camera phone. You can see they were using the Eight-pointed star and cross motif, and also they added some details in the eight-pointed stars themselves. It is made to a very good effect, very intricate and beautiful, even though the place it was decorating is somehow questionable.


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Anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad

Or Mawlid (Eid Milad an-Nabi) (Qur’anic Arabic: مَوْلِدُ النَبِيِّ‎ mawlid(u) (n-)nabiyy(i), “Birth of the Prophet” Standard Arabic: مولد النبي mawlid an-nabī. Today, the Muslim world celebrates the anniversary of the birthday of the founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is an important event for all Muslims, Shia or Sunni, in the east or the west, Saudi Arabia and beyond, to show their appreciation for their great leader and to remember him as the founder of  Islam.

اللهم صلى على سيدنا محمد وعلى اله وصحبه وسلم

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Study – Difference between Muqarnas and Mocárabe

For today (or tonight, actually, since I am typing this in the night ) we will look into the difference between Muqarnas and Mocárabe, since it seems like these particular architectural  features are the most popular topics in this blog.

Introduction –

first let us see the definitions of these two architectural aesthetics that were extensively used in the Islamic world. In a general sense, both Muqarnas and Mocárabe refer to a type of corbel, a stonework (or any materials used to make them) jutting out of a wall or ceiling, used as decorative element in Islamic architecture. in essence, Muqarnas can be referred to both original term of Muqarnas or Mocárabe but Muqarnas cannot refer to as Mocárabe.

Muqarnas have the form of small pointed niches arranged in tiers, each level projecting forward than the level below. Meanwhile, Mocárabe is a design utilizing series of complex prism shapes that resembles stalactites. One of the main difference of these two designs the way it is arranged – Muqarnas does not necessarily resembles stalactites, meaning that Mocárabe is usually pointed downwards, while Muqarnas utilizes forms such as small niches – as I have noted before – as well as stars and other geometrical shapes.


The earliest example of Muqarnas can be found in Samarra, Iraq, meaning that this architectural form originates in Central Asia. This also meant that it was taken from Persian aesthetics, instead of original Islamic innovation. As Islam spreads from the 7th century onwards, the aesthetic ideals were passed on as well, making the Muqarnas spread throughout as far as Islam goes.

As I have noted before, Muqarnas are assembled from the forms of small niches, as well as stars and other shapes. These forms are arranged in tiers, one lever projecting forward than the one below the particular level. This continues on until it reaches a point, ultimately forming an arch. They are often applied in domes, pendentives, cornices, squinches and the undersides of arches and vaults, as to fill the void under them.

Muqarna (honeycomb-like Islamic architectural element). Painted plaster, 10th century, Nishapur. Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET 38.40.252).

This would be a piece of an arrangement of Muqarnas. Note the small niche, and the paint decorating it.

They are made in a wide variety of media – bricks, stone, stucco, plaster, wood or even paint, as a trompe l’oeil. They are also decorated in many ways such as covering them in tiles, or painting them, or left as it is.

Author - Matthias Rosenkranz

The details of the balcony of Qutub Minar in Delhi, India. Note the usage of niches, and note the arrangements.


Mocárabe are mainly used in the Andalusian Spain. Mocárabes are a series of design utilizing an array of prisms that resembles stalactites. It is usually made of plaster and wood, since using stone and other materials are impractical, though not uncommon. They are also usually painted.It is applied to friezes, vaults, windows, arches, and columns. The finest example would be in Alhambra, Spain, where it is used extensively all throughout the complex.

Author - Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealan

Details of  Mocárabe. Niches are still used, but with pointed ends.

It is said that Mocárabes are a symbolic representation of  the cave where prophet Muhammad received his revelation, hence the cavernous look these feature represent.


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Happy National Day Brunei!

Just a short note here. Today is the Independence or more correctly, National Day of my country, Brunei Darussalam, since the Independence day is actually on the 1st January 1984. It has been 26 years since my country has gained its independence, and by comparing the other states around us, we are pretty young. I am so proud of being a Bruneian and I am thankful for being one.

Some people may complaint that we are really such a boring country, and some people may whine that we are so uptight with our religion and customs, and the absence of booze, prostitution and gambling. Hey, at least our streets are clean with no drunks, prostitutes or frustrated bankrupt gamblers hanging around!

Selamat Menyambut Hari Kebangsaan Negara Brunei Darussalam ke-26!

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #6 – Iwans

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics for this week will focus on the Islamic architecture of Iwans. Most prominent in Central Asian architectures, secular or religious, it is defined as a vaulted space or hall, three walls are closed while one is left open. In a sense, it is a grandeur version of a gate – ornamental gate, an entry to a mosque, palaces or even individual dwellings.

It is actually a fundamental element in Sassanid (hence, the frequency in the Central Asia) architecture, it has been assimilated into Islamic or Arabic buildings.

Now we will see this architectural element as it is seen throughout the Islamic world. This feature is as noted before, mostly used in the Central Asia region, but as Islam spreads to other places, so did the artistic aesthetics and architectural ideals. A more detail study regarding this architectural feature will be posted later.

author - elishka

The Jame mosque of Isfahan , Iran. This is one of the mosque’s Iwans – there are three others. Observe the flamboyant decoration and tileworks, added with the dual minarets flanking it. This is the most recognizable Iwan, along with the two rest of Jame mosque.

Author - Sven Dirks, Wien

This is the Iwan of Friday Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. Note that there is no mini-minarets flanking it – as per usual with other kind of Iwans, but the decoration is just as extravagant as the rest. The Calligraphy decorating the perimeters have two kinds of calligraphy ; one in white and one in orange.

Stork nests on unidentified religious building, probably in Bukhara. Early color photograph from Russia, created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1904 to 1916. This particular one taken in 1911. You can see the Iwan is in a poor state – tiles falling off and the decoration is lost revealing the brickwork underneath.

Author - Zohair HarbUser:زهير حرب

Iwan of the King Saud Mosque in Saudi Arabia. this is a modern interpretation of the Iwan, and a more simpler style than its Central Asian counter part. Furthermore, the Iwan itself in in a closed space rather than out to a courtyard.  The same style is used at the Saladin Citadel in Cairo, Egypt. However I cannot find any picture showing the Iwan.

Author - Varun Shiv Kapur

Central iwan of Qila-i-Kuhna mosque, Purana Qila, India. This Iwan is slightly less flamboyantly decorated than its Iranian or Iraqi, however in place of the tiles used in Central Asia, Decoration were done in Red sandstone along with white marble and carvings.


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History – Islamic Art during the Ummayad Caliphate

History –

The Umayyad Caliphate (Banu Ummayah, arabic –  بنو أمية  ) is the second caliphate to rule the Islamic civilization after the Rashidun Caliphate, ruling after the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Named after the great grandfather of first Ummayad caliphate, Umayyah Ibn Abd Shams, the caliphate ruled the Muslim lands from 661-750, extending from Iran up to the modern day Spain.

Development of Islamic Art and Architecture under the Umayyad Caliphate

During the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, Islamic art and architecture, whether religious or secular, were developed and improved. New ideas and concepts were put into use. During this period, the ‘Arab Plan’ of architecture were utilized, that is, the building plan of a hypostyled (pillared) prayer hall. The finest example of this plan being put into use is the La Mezquita in Spain and The Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, completed in 715 by Caliph Al-Walid I.

Author - Jerzy Strzelecki

The interior of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The Main Prayer Hall is pillared – a Hypostyle Hall. This is what referred to the Arab Plan, and was emulated by many mosques.

During this time as well, one of the most sacred building in the Islamic world – The Dome of the Rock – in which sits a block of stone believed by the Muslims to be the rock where the Prophet Muhammad stood before ascending the Heaven to meet God, were built. The building, completed in 618, was built in the shape of an octagonal, and features a golden dome.

Photo by en:User:Gilabrand. Dome of the Rock viewed through Bab al-Qattanin

Most innovations and ideas produced during this time were mainly architectural in nature ; great buildings were planned, imagined and realized during this time, although the decorations for embellishing these buildings were inspired by other foreign cultures, meaning the Islamic art is still in its infancy, still in the process of assimilating various cultures and traditions it stumbles upon to make a unique representation of their artistic aesthetics.


Early in the Ummayad caliphate, the Islamic empire began to grow from the Hijaz mainland of Mecca and Medina – southwards to the lands of Yemen, The east towards the modern day Iraq and  Iran, To the north reaching the Turkish lands and its surroundings and westwards to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and  the Spanish Andalusia. While the Umayyads were expanding their territories, for sure they came across many cultures and subsequently the arts, for example the Byzantines in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), The Sassanids in Iran and Iraq, The Copts of Egypt (and the Ancient Egypts who influenced the Coptics), The Berbers of the North African region and the Mediterranean cultures of Rome, Greek and Cyprus.

The Byzantine decorative method of utilizing gold coloured mosaics were adopted by the Umayyad artisans, one fine example of this usage is at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, though the figurative representations were replaced by scenes of gardens, palm trees and cities and buildings, as so to comply with the Hadith (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad who discouraged, or more likely forbade the representations of human and animal figure, for the fear that the early Muslims would commit to idolatry this way. This Byzantium influences of mosaic is also used in the famed Dome of the Rock. In addition of flowery and vegetal motifs used for the mosaics, it was also used to create epigraphical frieze under the dome of the building, just above the rock inside it.

Comparison of Byzantine and Umayyad mosaic art.Note the use of gold coloured mosaics.On the left – Apostles (detail), Arian Baptistry, Ravenna, Italy, 5th Century. the right – The Dome of the Tresury, Umayyad Mosque, 8th Century.

Influences of Sassanids were also notable by the representations of stylized vegetal and flowery motifs, soon to be known as Arabesques. This art style were used in Architecture as decorative elements of the mosques and other secular buildings, as well as daily items and specialties such as ceramics (which are still unglazed by that time) and Quranic manuscripts, which is still written in Kufic scripture. Figurative represntations were also taken from the Sassanid culture, even though to a smaller scale. Animal and human figures were depicted in items such as vessels and vases, along with various articles of artwork,  but never used in religious items, as to comply with the Hadith aforementioned.

Comparison of Sassanid and Umayyad Art. On the left : Candlestick with lion protomes. Cast bronze with engraved and openwork decoration. Khurasan, Iran, 11th–12th century. On the right : Sassanid Ceramic Candleholder, National Museum of Iran. Date not enclosed. Photo of the Sassanid art courtesy of  Fabien Dany –

With the expansion of the Islamic empire comes the influences of other cultures and civilizations that will assimilate into the Muslim culture, and the amalgamation, therefore, paved the way for the unique style of Islamic art afterward.



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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #5 – Islamic Ceramics

For today’s edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, we will be looking into the colourful world of Islamic Ceramics. Throughout Islamic history, ceramics have been a great part of its art, usage ranging  from daily items such as plates, jars to architectural features such as Muqarnas, friezes and wall coverings.

The Muslims had done some innovations towards ceramic making. Techniques such as Tin-opacified glazing were invented by the Muslims, as well as creating some of the most impressive types of ceramics such as those produced in Iznik.

Albarello with fleur-de-lys decoration. Earthenware with transparent glaze, underglaze painted. Syria, first half of the 14th century.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Part of an architectural frieze. Earthenware with moulded and painted decoration under transparent glaze and lustre glaze, early 13th century. From Kashan, Iran.

Dish with fish of the ladjvardina (“cobalt”) type. Earthenware with stain and gilded decoration, coloured opacified glaze, overglaze painted, Iran, late 13th century-early 14th century.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Mihrab. Earthenware with moulded and painted decoration under transparent glaze and lustre glaze, early 14th century. From Kashan, Iran.

Ceramic tile depicting an elephant. Iran. Original work of art: late 12th century

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