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.



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5 responses to “Study – Pseudo-Kufic, an Islamic influence on Christian art

  1. jooan

    “The imitation’s Kufic script is devoid of any meaning at all, and shows the maker have no knowledge of the Arabic Language.”

    it s clear enouph that the sentence “muahamed ist the prophet of God” written on it.

    • Thank you for pointing it out! I didn’t notice it the first time, and thought it was just some decorative lines. Didn’t know at all it was “Muhammad is the prophet of God” upside down! Thanks again 🙂

  2. A.S.

    Consider also that because the Islamic world was the leading world power and a center of knowledge, the Arabic language was the lingua franca for intellectuals in Mediterranean Europe and the Near East. Perhaps, then, early Renaissance artists incorporated Arabic scripts because they wanted to elevate the status of the subject. (Similar to the English-speaking upper-class in many non-English-speaking countries today.)

  3. qammoora

    It is said that the King Orfa Rex converted to Islam. He didn’t only imitate the Islamic Abbasid coins but also he added his own picture on it. But the pope ordered to eliminate any document talking about him because he converted to Islam. At that time Isمamic State was in its heyday.

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