Study – The Three Major Empires of the Islamic World and Their Contribution to the Islamic Art as a Whole

The contemporary Islamic Art that we see today, whether in the decorative or in architectural aspects, are influenced by many different cultures and then refined by the Islamic artisans themselves. There are three major empires in the Islamic History that emphasized on the arts and architecture that gave significant influence and contribution towards the contemporary Islamic Aesthetics. Each of them have a specific field in the subject  of arts on which they are most known for.


Saz-style decoration panel. Earthenware, transparent glaze, painted undeglaze on slip. Turkey: Iznik, second half of the 16th century.

The Ottoman Empire were founded in the 14th Century and continues on until the dispersion of the empire after their defeat in World War I. Along this impressively long time frame were highly significant development in various fields including technology, art and architecture. The vast expand of the Ottoman Empire rule, which stretches out from Turkey to Tunisia, allows Islamic artisans to observe and hence imitate and improvise other cultures decorative arts and also follow their techniques and skills.Thus Turkish Islamic artisans had utilized their knowledge of foreign artistic culture and their technologies, skills and techniques to create their own unique art style, which ultimately contributed to the Islamic Arts and Architecture we see today.

Perhaps the Ottoman Empire’s most popular contribution to the Islamic art is the development of the ceramics or specifically Iznik tiles and I have written an article regarding this type of ceramic early on. The Iznik tiles are immensely popular in the Ottoman Empire that it was used abundantly in palaces and many major Ottoman mosques. It  drew its influences from Chinese porcelain, and it shows with the  fact that many Iznik tiles were done in blue and white colour scheme ; the traditional colours of the Chinese made ceramics. Although blue and white are a few of the most common colours used for making Iznik tiles, greens are also used as well as red ; in fact, the Ottomans are credited for development of bright red pigment, Iznik Red, in ceramics.


Cup and saucer. India, Mughal Dynasty, 18th century. Jade inlaid with gold threads, emeralds, rubies and glass.

Between 1526 to 1858, India was ruled by a Muslim empire named the Mughals. The empire came to a stop after India was seized by the British and exiled the last Mughal Emperor, Badahur Shah II. As it was the case with the Ottoman Empire, The Mughal Empire had their own distinct style of art and architecture, mostly influenced by other South Asian cultures, the Persians and the Hindu empires. They have taken styles from the other cultures as well as knowledge and techniques. They mostly took their techniques from the Persians, and they took aesthetic decorations and skills from the Hindu cultures. As a result, a clash of Islamic Persian architectural features and Hindu influenced decorations can be seen in the  structures the Mughals had left, such as the Taj Mahal or Humayun’s Tomb, in India.

As well as being capable of creating impressive monuments, they also have a very refined taste for decorating daily items and surrounding themselves in wealth and beauty. A very unique trait of the Islamic art in the Mughal empire is the usage of semi-precious stones and other kinds of articles of luxury materials inlaid into many things such as carvings in the walls of a tomb or mosques or for daily items such as boxes and the like. These gemstone carvings were mentioned by the Mughal Chronicler Abu’l Fazl and can still be seen today such as in the Taj Mahal.  Craftsmen of this skill are still operating today for modern consumers, reflecting the artistry of their Mughal ancestors.


A view of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran at night

The Safavids rule the land of Persia from 1501 to 1786 and differentiated themselves from the other two empires mentioned above with their Shiah (one sect of the Islamic faith) beliefs of their Shahs (rulers in Persian). During their period, like the other two empires, had developed significant achievements in various fields, thanks to their central location in Persia where there are lots of merchants and travelers coming to and from the East (China etc) and the East (Middle East). As a result, they received and taken a considerable amount of knowledge and skills from the two sides of the World, for example the techniques of creating ceramics from China and different architectural designs and technologies from the Middle East.

During the Safavids rule,the field of Architecture flourished, and they had created many impressive architectural wonders such as the Shah Mosque in Isfahan and many different palaces, many are still standing today. The usage of different kinds of decorations for the monuments can also be seen such as the ceramic tiles, which were Chinese influences, and Muqarnas from Turkey. Persian Islamic architecture is a very significant influence to the contemporary Islamic architecture, as many Muslim architects opt to follow the plan, in a whole or in parts, of the Persian architecture. This can be seen when Persian architects were employed for building monuments in distant lands, such as the Jame Mosque of India.



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