Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #14 – Islamic Figural Art

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, let’s look into one of the rarest art form to be presented in the Islamic World – figurative art.

Even though figural representative of human and animal are forbidden in Islam through a hadith (saying) from the Prophet Muhammad, Nevertheless the art is still practiced, albeit not very developed and not very much utilized and presented.  Figurative art usually decorates manuscripts in academics like science and astronomy, and sometimes stories and poems.

A figurative art of a centaur (Sagittarius?) in the book “Depiction of Celestial Constellations” by Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi. The topic of this book is obviously on Astronomy. The depiction is needed in order to give the reader a clear view of what is depicted with each constellation.

A page off a manuscript about the Story of Bayad and Riyad, a love story between Bayad, A merchant son from Damascus and a well educated girl named Riyad. It is believed to be eight centuries old (from the Andalusian rule in Spain) and now kept in the Vatican Library.

The Basin from a copy of Kitab fi ma’arifat al-hiyal al-handasiya (The Book of knowledge of ingenious mechanical devices), Automata, by al-Jazari. The book is regarded as a fine example of illustrated manuscript of the Arab world. This particular illustration depicts a machine, referred to as the basin.

An Arabic manuscript on the topic of  Zoology, describing different kinds of animals along with depictions. This is a typical page off a medieval Islam era academic manuscript, where depictions accompany the text.

A 13th Century illustration by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, a noted illustrator of the Islamic Art, accompanying a Maqamat of al-Hariri.  Maqamat is Arabic rhymed prose.


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