History – Islamic Art under the Caliphate of Cordoba

History

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.

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