History – Islamic Art Under the Rule of the Abbasid Dynasty

After the fall of the Ummayad Caliphate in April of 750 AD after the Battle of the Zab,  the Muslim empire throne was taken up by the Abbasid dynasty. The first caliph of the new dynasty, Abu Abbas As-Saffah, brought the capital city of the Islamic empire from Damascus to Baghdad.  It is during this time, together with the rise of another dynasty the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain, that Islam experienced the Golden Age.

Driven by the Al-Quran and Hadith that states scholarly endeavor is more profitable than going to war (One example states that the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr, showing the value of knowledge) The Abbasid dynasty produced notable scholarly works in Science, Literature, Philosophy and Technology, in turn affected the Islamic art and architecture with the discovery of new methods and technologies.

Due to the central location of the new heart of the Islamic Empire that is Baghdad, (dubbed as the navel of the world by the 9th-century historian al-Ya’qubi)  multiple influences from other cultures are made available. As well as taking and adopting the technologies and knowledge of  other civilizations such as paper-making from China or scientific or philosophical texts from the Greeks and the Indians, the Muslim artisans also took aesthetic influences from the aforementioned cultures (except from the classical Greek and Byzantine, which falls out of favour to the newer influences)  as well as from the Eurasian steppes and Iranian or Persian cultures and traditions. With these newer sources of inspiration and influences means that the Muslim artisans are improving upon their own aesthetics and well on their way on creating a whole new art style that is definitely unique to the Islamic world.

Pyxis. Steatite, Iran, Abassid Period.

Both Islamic art and architecture enjoyed being given a fresh reincarnation. The emergence of newer techniques and discovery of better materials, as well as the adopting of foreign technologies means that the Muslim artisans now have more better options to express their creativity, as well as learn new skills and techniques. The invention of metallic luster-ware and faience shows influences and technologies taken from their Chinese counterparts, and in turn the Muslim artisans also took aesthetic influences.

Cup. Earthenware with metallic lustre and opaque glaze, overglaze painted, 9th century.

Muslim textiles are improved, where silks are manufactured by the government run tiraz bearing the names of the monarchy. This shows that the textile industry of the Abbasid Dynasty enjoyed advancements in the field.

As paper making technology imported into the Islamic empire from the Chinese, book binding especially the Islamic holy text the Al Quran are widespread and improved upon. Illuminated manuscripts were invented and caught up with the aesthetic trend of the Islamic world. Newer or improved calligraphy were used, and it is also utilized in pottery making and decorating starting from this time.

from Smithsonian :Folio from a Koran :9th-10th century :Abbasid dynasty :Ink and color on parchment :H: 22.5 W: 29.7 cm :Egypt :Purchase, F1929.71 The verses are from sura (chapter) 22, entitled al-Hadj (Pilgrimage) and include a discussion of the pilgrimage to Mecca

Architecture at this time were still heavily influenced by Sassanid architecture, as well as Byzantine. However, Indian architectural style also slowly seeps into the Muslim buildings, even though the impact is not that great to be noticeable. The arcaded prayer hall, also known as the Arab Plan, as noted in the past post, were still utilized. Domes were still in its primitive form, and not fully used for any buildings secular or religious. Muqarnas are used, and minarets vary from region to region, for example the Great Mosque of Samarra features a tall spiral ramped minaret which is not practical for Muezzins, while somewhere in Baghdad, the minaret is not as tall nor thick, and have two tiers which is decorated with early forms of Muqarnas. Also, mud-bricks were still the preferred materials of building structures even for palaces, which unfortunately gets destroyed easily, and results in the rarity of any Abbasid buildings to be still standing today except for reinforced ones such as the aforementioned Great Mosque of Samarra or the Great Mosque of Uqba.

1911, of Suq al-Ghazal (The Yarn Bazaar) Minaret in Baghdad-Mesopotamia. This is the oldest minaret in Baghdad. It belonged to the Caliph Mosque built by Caliph Muktafi 901-907 A.D. The mosque was destroyed by Hulagu in 1258 A.D. during the sack of the city of the Caliphs. The current minaret was built by Hulagu’s son Abagha [1264-1281 A.D.]

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “History – Islamic Art Under the Rule of the Abbasid Dynasty

  1. wajeeh uddin

    awsom !!!!
    can any body help me or tell me about the abbasids achivements completely

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