Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #17 – Mughal Art

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, we will look briefly into Mughal art, one of the most impressive empires in India.

The Mughal Empire is famed for Taj Mahal, a monument for Mumtaz Mahal from the lovelorn Shah Jahan. However, The Mughal Empire also famous for its production of exquisite artifacts of art and elegant examples of architecture. Here we look some of their artistic products in brief. We will, as usual,  discuss this topic further in another time under a different category.

Portrait of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, 18th Century. From the Collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The Mughal Empire is famed for its portraiture, usually of nobility and the royalty.  Probably influenced by the Persian Empire, Mughal miniatures and portraits shows similar characteristics to its Persian counterparts, but have more defined, rather more realism look.

A Mughal casket, 18th Century, made of Ivory and silver. The same exquisite carving can be found adorning the famous Taj Mahal. You can see here floral motifs are the preferred decorative style by the Mughal artisans.

Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Department of Islamic Art, Richelieu, lower ground floor, room 11

A cup made out of rock crystal, inlaid with gold threads, silver and rubies. Made in the 18th Century. Here you can see how delicate their crafts can be and again you can see the motifs of flowers embellishing the cup.

A window made out of carved wood, 18th Century. Another fine example of the mastery of the craft of the Mughal artisans. This window is supposedly a shutter, but even a humble shutter is given an elegant treatment of detailed woodcarving.

Humayun’s tomb, New Delhi, India. This is one of the most impressive Mughal piece of architecture, after the Taj Mahal. It remains one of the most popular tourist destination in India, and displays impressive decoration and elegant aesthetics.

Study – Pseudo-Kufic, an Islamic influence on Christian art

Pseudo-Kufic is the term given to the imitations of the Arabic Kufic script, sometimes cursive Arabic script.  It is an example of the influence of Islam on Christian art.

Early Examples of the Pseudo-Kufic –

The earliest examples of Pseudo-Kufic occurs  back in the 8th Century where King Offa manufactured gold coins to resemble the Arab dinars. The coins from where King Offa imitates is from the Abbasid dinars minted by Caliph Al-Mansur in 774AD, whereas in the King Offa’s version, the latin words “Offa Rex” (meaning King Offa) were stamped in the middle of the coin. The imitation’s Kufic script is devoid of any meaning at all, and shows the maker have no knowledge of the Arabic Language. *update – I made a mistake here : I only observed the border of the coin which seemed to be jumble of Arabic words, since the coin is made to show the Offa Rex stamp in the correct way, I have disregarded the words Muhammad is the Prophet of God (ﻤﺤﻤﺩ ﺭﺴﻭﻞ ﷲ) right in the middle, when the image is turned upside down! Thanks to jooan for pointing this out! 🙂 *

Offa king of Mercia 757-793, gold dinar copy of dinar of the Abassid Caliphate 774

In the Tenth century in Medieval Southern Italy, coins referred to as Tari were used, however as with the case of coinage of King Offa, it also used non-illegible Kufic scripts.  These coins were generally minted from African gold mined in North Africa, in exchange for grain.

Roger II tari gold coin, Palermo with Arabic inscriptions

As a part of Renaissance decorative aesthetic

Between the tenth and fifteenth Century, Pseudo-Kufic became widespread  in European art. It is usually used as decorative bands in wall paintings of religious scenes and manuscript illumination. It is also used as decorative hem of textiles, religious halos and frames. These features usually decorates the likes of holy figures such as the Virgin Mary.

Gentille De Fabriano’s Madonna, 1415-1416. Note the Pseudo-Kuficon the hem of the Virgin’s robe, as well as her Halo.

It is unclear why renaissance painters and artists include the Pseudo-Kufic scripts into their religious paintings and sometimes uses Islamic or Arabic devices (Book bindings, Turkish Carpets, even Muslim costume). It is generally thought that the painters mistakenly took that Arabic script is identical to the scripts used in Jesus’ time, and chose to represent the early Christians that way.Another reason is that it is thought that the Christian world want to incorporate an international theme and express a cultural universality of the Christian faith, by blending together various script.

The usage of Pseudo-kufic declined in the 16th Century, as it is thought that the artists viewed the Early Christians in Roman context instead of an Arabic one.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #16 Islamic Glass Art

The Islamic civilization is quite known for its glass art, and so for this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, we will look briefly into the topic of Islamic Glass Art.

Islamic glass artisans used the Roman technique of making glass that is using calcium-rich sand and Natron, a salt substance previously used for the embalming of Egyptian mummies, up until the 9th century. In the early turn of the millennium, Islamic artisans used plant ash based instead of Natron for soda component in their recipe of glass making. It remained unclear why caused this change, but it is thought that in the 9th century, political unrest in Egypt led to the shortage of Natron supply, forcing the artisans to find another source of soda.

From Louvre Museum - Department of Islamic Art, Richelieu, lower ground floor, room 2

This is one of the earliest examples of Islamic glass art.  It is given the date of production between the 7th and 11th century. The decoration is molded and shows the influences of Roman aesthetic.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This pitcher is made in the 10th Century in Nishapur. There are medallion decoration around it (albeit unclear)

From the Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon, France - First floor, room 18

A Mosque lamp with enameled and gilt decoration, made in Egypt in the 13th century. During these times glass craft are getting refined in the Islamic world, from the technological advancements made in the production of glass.

From the Louvre Museum, Paris, France - Department of Islamic Art, Richelieu, lower ground floor, room 2, case 3

Another Mosque lamp, bearing the verses of the Al-Quran. A verse from the Chapter An-Nuur decorated the neck of the lamp, while the body shows the name of Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir al-Din Muhammad ibn Qala’un. It is made in the 13th Century, and manufactured in Egypt or Syria. This fine example is one of the product of the Islamic Golden Age of Glass making.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A tazza (cup) decorated with figural motifs and Arabic inscription of one a verse from an unknown poet. It is made in the middle of the 13th century and manufactured in Syria. Another fine example of Islamic Glass art in its glory.

Project – Making Eight-Pointed Star Easily Using A Pair of Scissors

Okay, that is sure one of my longest post title.

Anyway, for this edition of Projects, I would like to bring forward to you a simple paper craft that kids may enjoy and at the same time teach them the properties and the fundamentals of Geometry in Islamic decorative arts. In this edition I would like to show you how to make the famous Eight-pointed star from a paper by just using a pair of scissors.

Now, I would like to clarify that I learned this from an education ebook that is aimed for teaching schoolchildren about Geometrical art in Islamic Design. I have lost the ebook and I do not know where to obtain it again. However, should I find it in some other time in the future, I will definitely post it here under the Internet Finds category (since I am pretty sure it was a free ebook)

I will show you step by step here, with both an illustration an a photo where appropriate to show how it should look like.

  1. First, draw up a circle on an adequately sized paper (a note sized paper is enough, however do be reminded that there are some folding required for this project) and cut it out. (I don’t put up a photo of the diagram here because of obvious reason, a circle is a circle.) You can use something circular if you don’t have a compass or protractor handy, such as a cylindrical container or a round box.
  2. Then fold the circle into half, and fold it again until it forms a quarter of a circle. You might want to have the edges lined up neatly. (the diagrams are horrific, but at least you will get some idea)
  3. Fold the quarter circle in half again. (in this diagram I am showing you how to fold it, and how it should look like)
  4. Fold the topmost part of the folded shape as indicated on the diagram, and unfold. This is to make a guiding crease alongside the top part. (in the accomapnying photo of the diagram, please note that the picture is taken from the “top” part of the folded circle – where there curve on top of the folded paper is folded downwards)
  5. Do another fold as indicated in the diagram, and unfold it again as well. This diagram doesn’t have an accompanying picture, however it should be clear where to fold the circle from the diagram given. The red line represents the crease created from the fold from the last step.
  6. Cut alongside the creases created from the folding in steps 4 and 5.
  7. Unfold and you will have yourself a perfectly angled eight pointed star shape!

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #15- Jaalis

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics we shall look into the interesting topic of Jaalis.

Jaali or Jali (Gujarati જાળી) is the term used for perforated wooden or stone screens, or more exactly, latticed screen, usually done in an ornamental, geometric designs and sometimes calligraphy. It is a very prominent architectural decoration feature in Muslim India. Earlier designs uses stones or wood as a medium for these Jaali, but during the Mughal emperors reign in South Asia, Jaalis are given a more elegant look with the usage of semi-precious stones as inlaid decoration and marble instead of stone as the medium.

Jaalis are comparable and is the parallel of Mashrabiyas in the Islamic world as a decorative element in architecture, however some differences make these two unlike each other. We will cover the topics of Mashrabiyas and the difference between these two in other categories.

Most notable and finest examples of Jaalis are to be found in obviously India’s and other neighbouring countries tourism venues such as the Taj Mahal or the Humayun’s Tomb.

Author -

A Mihrab (Niche indicating the direction of Mecca, the Muslims holiest city, of where they direct their prayers to) decorated with Jaali pieced screen. Done in marble, this fine example is found in Humayun’s Tomb, India.

Detail of Jaali in Taj Mahal, India. These intricate carved designs of pierced screen decorates around the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and the commissioner of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan.

Author - This photo was taken by Hans A. Rosbach.

A  Jaali abouve a portal in the Diwan-I Khas of the Red Fort, Agra, India. Another fine example, it also shows that most Jaalis have Geometrical designs for the decoration. This also draws up of a parallel in Islamic decoration – the Chamsiyya, a decorated screen window above portals intended so that natural sunlight pours through it.

Another fine example of Jaali in the Lahore Fort, in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. while this example is hard to appreciate, you can see the effect these pierced screen brings forth – privacy of the onlooker from inside of the building without revealing themselves to the outside world.

Author - This photo was taken by Hans A. Rosbach.

a complicated design for a Jaali in Salim Chishti Tomb, India. Complicated, abstract and complex designs are not uncommon in the execution of Jaalis, and extensive usage of Geometrical design is a characteristic of Jaalis.

Red Bubble – T-shirts for sale!

So I created myself a profile on, and now I am starting to sell some designs on t-shirt. If you fancy anything please do buy it and support this website along the way! 🙂

I have added a banner to this blog – down there below on your right, so you can buy directly from it, or go to the website and look at the artwork.

Thank you for your attention, and again, help support the blog!

History – Islamic Art under the Caliphate of Cordoba


The Caliphate of Cordoba (Arabic: خلافة قرطبة) ruled the Iberian Peninsula (the al-Andalus) and the region of North Africa, that ruled from the city of Cordoba from 929AD to 1031AD.

Abd-ar-Rahman I became the Emir of Cordoba in 756AD  after fleeing for six years when the Umayyads fell from the throne of Islamic Caliphate in Damascus. After becoming the Emir, having the intention of returning to power, he defeated other Islamic rulers who defied the Umayyad Caliphate in the area, and united them into one Emirate.

The rulers of the new Emirate were content having the title of Emirs until the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III in the 10th Century when he was threatened by the emergence of the Fatimids, so he took the title of a Caliph to himself as such to gain prestige with his subjects.

Islamic art under the Caliphate of Cordoba –

The Caliphate of Cordoba was very prosperous, when the Caliphs of the Caliphate of Cordoba have diplomatic relations with its neighbouring empires and kingdoms. The economy of the Caliphate is ludicrous as well, coming from taxes and tributes paid from the conquered parties surrounding the Caliphate, as well as from Christian and Jewish subjects.Because of the relations with other kingdoms and empires such as The Christian Kings in the north that includes France, Germany and Constantinople, there are diverse effects on the formation of the Islamic art.

aside from the influences taken from the Byzantine and Sassanid empires discussed in the history of Islamic Art during the Umayyad Caliphate, Islamic art is by this period susceptible to other Eastern cultures, bringing in different patterns and art forms into the Islamic Aesthetics. Influence from rival empire the Fatimids are also apparent.

Pyxis of Al-Mughira, dated 968 from the Madinat al-Zahra.Regarded as one of the masterpieces of Andalusian ivory work.

Styles and influences taken by the Spanish Cordoba Caliphate includes the likes of Roman forums, apparent usage is for the pillars that decorate the main hall of La Mezquita where the pillars are used to support the famous two coloured arches.

The Drawing Room of Abd-ar-Rahman III in Medinat Al-Zahra, showing the roman columns used to support the arches.

The Caliphate also strive to be more unique and have more individual characteristics as opposed to its rivals of the Abbasids and Fatimids in their aesthetic value, however they still use the stylized flowery calligraphy that is developed by the Abbasids that came before them. For example, the Kufic calligraphy of the Arabic script, with its elongated stalks and leaf style decorations usually embellish monumental buildings of the Abbasid is used for decorative texts on smaller items such as caskets and boxes.

An ivory casket carved with silver engravings. From Madinat al-Zahra circa 966AD. Note the Kufic inscription just below the lid.

Byzantine influences came in the form of figurative art – boxes and caskets are decorated with human and animal representations in the Byzantine culture, however the religion symbolism or political representations of the Byzantine culture is not palatable to the Islamic aesthetics, and thus replaced with scenes in the courts ; princes at leisure, listening to music, sipping wine and enjoying company.

A lidless Pyxis from Madinat Al-Zahra circa 970AD, done in elephant ivory depicting human and animal figures.

It is during this period as well, and perhaps more famous for, the Islamic Architecture flourished. It is at this time, great works of architecture masterpieces are built, such as the Great Mosque of Cordoba or the La Mezquita, now converted into a church, and a ruined city called Medinat Az-Zahra. The Caliphs of Cordoba built many opulent palaces and mosques, and comissioned luxurious items such as gilt ivory boxes and statues.

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, now a Roman Catholic church, built in 780AD. Regarded as one of the most impressive architectural wonder of the Caliphate of Cordoba.