Monthly Archives: September 2010

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #30 – Mamluke Dynasty Art and Architecture

The Imagining Islamic Aesthetics postings have reached its 30th mark today! Doesn’t mean anything much though, just telling myself that I still have along way to go.

Anyway, for this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, We shall look briefly into Mameluke dynasty (particularly in Egypt) art and architecture. The beginning s of the Mameluke or Mamluk dynasty in Egypt began with a Turkish Mamluk (soldier or slave) by the name of Ahmad Ibn Tulun  and created his Tulunid dynasty (hence, effectively became the earliest Mamluk ruler) when he was sent to Egypt as Regent Governor for the Abbasids in 868. Though it was short lived and soon overthrown by Abbassid forces, Mamelukes still hold various posts even in the high offices during the reign of the Ikhshidids  and Fatimids in Egypt. During the Ayyubid Dynasty however, began the origins of the sultanate of the Mamelukes, when Ayyubid rulers had met with internal problems and oppositions, leading up to the rise of the Mameluke Siultans who replaced the Ayyubid.

An example of Mamluk playing card. Islamic art is particularly in its high form during the era of Mameluke Dynasty, that even small items such as this piece of playing card is given an elegant artistic touch.

Circa 1360 Egyptian lamp. Made of glass and painted with enamel and gold, it is located in the Freer Gallery of Art. This lamp is presumably made for a mosque, judging from the calligraphy on the neck.

An illustration of a “mechanism” by Al-Jazari, made in 1315. Now resides in Metropolitan Museum of Art, In New York.

Author - Baldiri

A minaret in the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque. Cairo. Egypt. The stonemasons of the Egyptian dynasties exhibit exquisite carving, perhaps an ability taken from their Ancient past.

Author - Michel Benoist

The Mausoleum of the Mamelukes in Cairo, Egypt

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Projects – Islamic Architecture on Paper

Since I was small, I always, in my free time, sketch and draw – on every scrap paper that I could find, drawing human figures, abstract designs (if you would honour scribbles in that way) logos, buildings etc…So much so I often get into trouble, for I also often use the back pages of my school notebooks for my spontaneous sketches. Very naughty of me, and when I reminisce, I can’t help it but to think how funny it was.

As I grew older, and as I had (and have) jobs in my hand, I find it hard to spend some time on my drawing and sketching, though that spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, my-hands-have-minds-of-their-own moments are always there -my notebook which I carry everywhere when I am at work is a testament of this, and surprise, I always prefer the back pages for the sketches. Old habits will never change, I suppose. The notebook is full of what I am most interested in today, that is, Islamic art and architecture. you can find attempts to understand and recreate Muqarnas, looking for new styles and shapes of Geometrical stars, trying my hands on different types of calligraphy etc. If I have the chances, I will scan and post the pages here for you to see.

When I was 19 years old or so, I was thinking and imagining (read : daydreaming) about this lost land, far away in one of the seven sea of the world, where all cultures and religion of the world collide and create a harmonious country. One of the ‘states’ of the country is a place called Darussalam, the Abode of Peace in Arabic, where all Islamic aesthetics come together. I imagined a majestic and very grand palace where the Sultan and his queen would reside. The palace itself is an amalgamation of different Islamic styles – from Persian Iwan and grand gates, Moroccan style open hall with a fountain in the center,Egyptian Mameluke or Fatimid style hall, an Andalusian-Spanish style pavilion with a canal and gardens like those in the Alhambra and a Turkish grand palace with its multiple domes and of course, the Hammams.

As busy as I am, sometimes I found some time alone (usually in the middle of the night) and I grabbed my pencils and a piece of paper, I took my old ideas and recreate them. Now that I have a deeper understanding of the Islamic aesthetics and architectural features, my sketches look the least more authentic than I used to do. However, I know that I have still lots more to learn.

Sorry for the huge watermark in the middle. Have to protect my creations! Anyways, this is the “main gate” of the “palace” I was imagining. The style is combination of Mughal and Persian aesthetics. The geometrical stars are still not perfect, so is my straight lines. I tried to recreate the Muqarnas from the Persian buildings above the portals. I think I essentially recreated it, but not as perfect as the real thing. The floral motifs flanking the lower part of the gate is influenced by Mughal and Indian art. You can see the feeble attempt to recreate the geometrical Kufic scripts inside the portal – something I really need to learn more deeply. The calligraphy along the gate is taken from the Al-Quran, from the Surah Al-Fath.

This one have a muted, faded watermark, but it is still a watermark across the pic :s This is the Andalusian-Spanish pavilion , which supposed to be between the “Egyptian Mameluke/Fatimid Hall” and the “Main Palace” itself.  I did not recreate the gardens, but I just drawn the main pavilion. Should it be in colour, it would have red clay roofs, with white walls, plus the colours of the Zillij tiles on the second floor (Mezzanine?) of the structure. I just essentially trying to recreate the horseshoe arches, famously used in the La Mezquita in Spain. I did not drawn the Zillij inside the pavilion itself, due to my perspective problems..

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Technicals – Intermediate : Finding the Eight-pointed Star Using Circles and Lines

We have discussed about how to build Eight-Pointed stars using lines as guides. Now we will look on how to create these ubiquitous motif in the Islamic Art and Architecture using simple circle shapes and lines. Don’t worry about the ‘intermediate’ word in the title – it may be a little bit different than the basic star shape building technique I had posted before, but this method offers more flexibility, as well as accuracy.

For this technique, if you want to make this on paper (or other materials you prefer) you need a straight ruler and a drafting compass.

  1. Start with drawing a straight horizontal line, and a vertical line through the center of the horizontal line, so it creates a cross.
  2. Put your sharp point of your compass in the middle of the cross – as marked in red in the diagram, and create a circle around it , as so –
  3. Create four more circles with the first circle as your main guide. Use the points where the circle meets with the lines to put your compass and draw the circles. Here in this diagram, I had drawn four different coloured (cyan, purple, yellow and green) circles with their respective points .
  4. Draw two diagonal lines crossing the circles and the original cross lines. Here it is marked with two black lines going over the original diagram. This is the base of many other shapes that you can create, however I will only concentrate on Eight-Pointed Stars.
  5. You can now create the Eight-pointed Star by drawing lines from the points where the four outer circle are made, as well as where the diagonal lines meet the connected circles, as shown in this diagram in dark blue – 
  6. Now you may clean the guiding circles and lines, and you will have an accurate and geometrically correct Eight-Pointed Star.

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #29 – Islamic Medieval Armoury

We have seen Islamic metalwork in one of the past post of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics that focuses on smaller, daily usage items that are delicately decorated and embellished. For this Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post will focus on another form of Islamic Metalworks – Weaponry and Armoury.

Like the daily items made of metal, armours and weapons are also decorated, and in itself an art form. Helmets, armours and swords, as well as other militaristic artifacts are done with decorations and embellishments, one would think why would these items be created with an artistic touch, when the point of creating these armours and weapons are for warfare. These artifacts showcases the general appreciation of the Islamic world for beauty, thus even for items that are most likely to be destroyed (in this case, in wars) are also given the touch of elegance.

Indian Helmet, 17–18th century. Helmet: steel with engraved, chased and gilded decoration; lining: padded velvet; plume-holder: gilded leather.

Dagger and its scabbard, India, 17th–18th century. Blade: Damascus steel inlaid with gold; hilt: jade; scabbard: steel with engraved, chased and gilded decoration.

Source/Photographer - Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2009-02-28

Arm protection. Engraved and leaf-gilted iron or steel, 17th–18 centuries. From India or Iran. Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon, France. Accession number Inv. D 222. Location First floor, room 18.

Author - Georges Jansoone User : JoJan

Conical Turkish helmets (15th and early 16th c.) and coat of mail; Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Source/Photographer - Marie-Lan Nguyen (2010)

Yatagan with inscription on the blade: “may he meet an ill fate, the enemy who hits my yatagan”. Ivory, steel and nielloed gold, Turkey, 17th century. Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon, France. Accession number Inv. 1951-5 Location First floor, room 18.

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Project – Islamic Star Pattern Wallpapers 3

To make up for the lack of posts these few weeks, I would like to upload some of my creations (again) for your desktop customization needs.

I made some Islamic designs for making some sort of greeting card that I can post on my Facebook. I tried making it as my wallpaper for my laptop, and surprisingly, it looked great. I adjusted some bits here and there, and then playing with some patterns I did not used before, use some different colours and effects and there you have it, some cool looking (in my perspective, anyway) wallpapers that you can put up for your computer. Remember, you can download these wallpapers for free, but please do not delete the watermarks and reproduce them to another website.

The wallpapers focus on coloured backgrounds with white outlines. The size is 1024 x 768. However, should you need other resolutions, pleas do leave a comment!

The Blue wallpaper. This is some sort of accident, actually, playing with cyan-blue gradient background and gray-white outline.  I was surprised on how it turned out, and it became my favourite wallpaper on my laptop.

The Green wallpaper. The background is gradient dark green-light green and the outline, stylized six-pointed stars with two interlaced lines in solid white. What makes this one particularly special is the usage of the interlace design, creating a complicated look for a simple shape.

The yellow wallpaper. Actually it is more of a gold colour than yellow. I rarely use yellow in my projects because I don’t like the colour. But I actually experimented with the colour and to my pleasant surprise it looks quite nice. The background is gradient Dark yellow-gold with outlines of 14 pointed stars inspired by Zillij tiling in solid white.

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Study – The Characteristics of Persian and Mughal Architecture

Honestly, I have been a very lazy blogger these days…pretty much owing to the fact that I have been busy and due to that, it drains my energy for blogging. Thankfully I can manage my time efficiently now, so I can have some time to dedicate on this blog 🙂

Before we have seen some examples of the Mughal and Islamic Persian architecture and now I would like to point out the characteristics of both of these architectural styles. Since the both of these styles are essentially the same, I would like to note first the similarities, and then to point out the difference between them that makes the individual style unique from each other.

Essentially Mughal (and most Islamic Indian architecture) and Islamic Persian architecture styles are similar because Mughal, Islamic Indian architectures uses the services of Iranian/Persian architects – hence, Islamic Persian architecture influenced the Mughal architecture. The main differences between these two are aesthetics and further influences from other existing or foreign cultures. While the Mughal architectural style have been developed in India and the surrounding South Asian countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, it is influenced by the foreign styles of Islamic and Persian Architectures, as well as the existing Hindu architecture. Persian architecture, on the other hand develops as early as 5000BC, predating Islamic style, hence seeing the close proximity of South Asia to the Persian World, it is understandable that the Mughals took their influences from their neighbours.

Author - Nevit Dilmen

The Jame Mosque in Isfahan, Iran

The Main Characteristics of Persian and Mughal Architecture

I have to point out that I will be referring the Islamic Persian architecture rather than the Pre-Islamic one to compare with the Mughal architecture. There are a few structural similarities between these styles –

  1. The usage of Iwans – as I had noted before, Iwans are vaulted spaces, with the space enclosed by three walls and an opening. These architectural feature is built to resemble a gateway, and it is used extensively for both religious and secular buildings throughout Islamic Persia as well as South Asia, and to a certain extend , the Arabian Peninsula and some North African Islamic empire, especially in the modern times.
  2. Extensive use of  arches – The two famous monuments, The Taj Mahal for the Mughal architecture and the Great Mosque of Isfahan for the Persian architecture displays the example of this fact. It is built for aesthetic reasons, as well as to place Masyrabias windows and to lessen the extend of sunlight to pour into the building.
  3. Gardens, fountains and pools –  Both architectural styles offers spacious gardens or pools with fountains as features to the buildings. Taj Mahal have well tended gardens in front of it as well as fountains and pools.
  4. Domes – The domes for both of the architectural styles are quite similar in shape – it sits on top of a cylindrical drum, before tapering to a point and decorated with a finial. In Mughal architecture, sometimes multiple smaller domes decorate the rooftops of the buildings.
  5. Symmetry – Both styles exhibit impeccable attention to symmetry of the buildings – it is not uncommon for a building to have same number of minarets and the same number of arches and pillars to each side of the buildings. even the pools and garden are often designed in a similar style, creating a mirror like effect.

Smaller details that are common to both of these styles are –

  1. Usage of Muqarnas – The stalactite like decoration are commonly used under arches, especially under the vaults of the Iwans.
  2. Calligraphy – Both of the styles used calligraphy as decorative accents around the gate of the Iwan, as well as under cornices and around the arches surrounding the building.
  3. Mashrabias – The pierced screens  used as windows are used all throughout the buildings of both of the styles, however there is some notable differences of the Mashrabias.

The figure above represents the common plan for both Islamic and Mughal architecture, particularly for religious buildings. The colours correspond to different features of the styles –

  • Light Green denotes the main dome (here shown with the cylindrical drum on the bottom part, and a finial on top of the dome) as well as supplemental smaller domes above the arcades.
  • The Sky Blue shows the main portal of the building, the Iwan.
  • The Dark Blue on top of the Iwan and in between the main domes are the minarets – these are commonly placed flanking the top part of the Iwan of the building, sometimes supplemented by a separate, taller minaret.
  • Most of the buildings have an arcaded corridor, sometimes the shapes (particularly the size) is different. Usually , the bottom level, in dark purple, are larger, perhaps to place extra doors beside the main one that is situated in the Iwan, while the top or second level of the building, in lilac, features smaller arches, presumably to fit in high windows or mashyrabias.
  • The grey strips are usually where Calligraphic, usually in cursive scripts, are put, though not limited to the places specified.
  • The dark Green squares are usually where gardens are built, but sometimes, in its place, is a large courtyard. This is particularly true for Mosques, as to accommodate extra devotees, when the main prayer hall is full.
  • The dark Blue square in the middle denotes fountain and/or a pool. For mosques it is usually the Ablution pool where devotees cleanse themselves before offering prayers in the mosque.

differences between the two styles

there are a few differences to these two styles, some are –

  1. Materials used for building the structures – In South Asia, the preferrable material used for the buildings, both for the religious or secular structures are stone, mainly Redstone, or in some cases, marble. This is perhaps because of the material are easily obtainable  in the region. For Persia and the surroundings, the buildings are mostly consists of mud bricks, plastered and covered with decorated tiles. This is also because of the question of availability – mud bricks are easily made, and quarries of stone building materials are scarce, if not non-existent in that area. since Persia is in the crossroads between China and the Middle East, the Persian took the technologies of tile and pottery making from China and utilized it to decorate their buildings, particularly for larger structures.
  2. Decorations – Deriving from the facts about the materials used by the styles, and so decorations are different. Since the Mughal empire have access to stone building materials, the decorations are mostly carved – the Jaalis, Mashrabias of the South Asia are carved stones, usually of marble, sometimes inlaid with semi-precious stones. Arabesques or Geometrical designs are carved directly into the rock. Their Persian counterpart relies on the usage of tiles and ceramics for decorating the buildings. Designs are painted on each individual tiles and arranged and plastered on the walls of the buildings. Sometimes, smaller tiles are used and arranged to make certain designs for example Kufic calligraphy or certain geometric decoration.
  3. Colours – Since the building materials are different, for sure the colours of the buildings are different. In South Asia, the buildings tend to be warm coloured – reds, oranges, browns and maroons are predominant, as well as white, since the building materials consists of red stones and marble, among others. In Persia and its surroundings feature azure, blue or turquoise coloured tiles – the cooler colours are preferred because it is to contrast from the bright yellow sands and the strong sunlight of the desert.
  4. Influences – Persian architecture mostly derives its influences from Islamic architecture, as well as the pre-Islamic cultures : Elamites, Achaemenids, Parthians, Byzantine, Chinese and Sassanids all influenced the Post-Islamic Persian architecture. While Mughal architecture is influenced by Persian, Islamic as well as Hindu architecture. This influence can be seen by the carvings and decorations on the structures – Minarets looks like stalks of flowers, as well as flower inspired inlaid decorations, a motif commonly used in Hinduism. Arches in Persia curves without any bumps or such, but in Mughal architecture features groves in the arches, signifying influence directly taken from older structures in India.

Author - Soman

The Jamia Masjid in Delhi, India

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #28 – Islamic Woodcarvings

How was your Eid? I hope you had a good time and for my non-Muslim readers, I hope you had a great weekend. I am sorry that I had not posted much of any posts, even the weekly Imagining Islamic Aesthetics. However with the excitement and celebrations had died down, I can now dedicate some of my time to the blog.

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics I would like to focus on the topic of Islamic woodcarving. Don’t worry there is not much of descriptive texts here, just some eye candy for you to enjoy because as usual, this topic will be elaborated more later in other category, some other time.

Wood is one of the prominent materials used by Islamic artisans, being an easily malleable and easily obtainable (in some areas) material. In fact, it is one of the preferred medium the Islamic artisan chosen for their masterpieces, particularly in the Mediterranean region of the Islamic empire i.e Egypt, Syria, Turkey. It is usually carved and sometimes inlaid with different materials such as mother-of-pearls or semi-precious stones or sometimes painted, and usually used for structures such as Minbars, doors, Masyrabias, wooden panels or for smaller, daily artifacts.

Detail of a cupboard door with mother-of-pearl, in the apartments of the Valide Sultan in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Author - CarlesVA

The carved wooden ceiling of Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) in Sicily, Italy.

Panel with doves. Carved shea wood, Egypt, 8th century.

A carved and painted ceiling in the Tomb of Moulay Ishmael, in Meknes, Morocco.

A Masyrabia window in the Mausoleum of Barquq, Cairo, Egypt

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