Islamic Art in Antique Rugs: The most iconic Islamic art form and cultural tradition.
Carpet weaving is the most iconic Islamic art form to come out of Islamic societies. This extraordinary tradition is most famous for producing the ‘pile carpet’ also known as the ‘oriental carpet.’ And so, predominantly you will find the most sophisticated Islamic art in antique rugs.
In the late 16th century, Shah Abbas made an economical plan that set the carpet weaving industry on fire. He did this by making trade treaties with Spain, England, and France. As a result, carpet weaving transformed from the hands of peasants to that of prestigious artists. It was soon a national industry.
Within Islamic societies, the finest pieces were collected in royal households, but they became acquired by royalty outside of Islam as well. By the early 17th century, Islamic rugs were being generated more than ever before and becoming a status symbol throughout European high society households. These exquisite Islamic art pieces were too precious for the floor, so they were commonly used to decorate the walls or cover furniture.
As for the earliest Islamic carpets, most cease to exist. Of those that survived the ages, early scholars had to depend on Italian and Flemish paintings, particularly Renaissance paintings, to determine their birthdays. These historical paintings became a major source of information on early Islamic carpet weaving.
Moving forward, rugs from the 17th century were identified from the clues the actual rug provided, such as its type of dies, style, and design. Origin was often determined by the knot style. For instance, Persian carpets were typically made with an asymmetrical knot while Turkish carpets were made with the opposite.
In conclusion, antique rugs are a monumental part of Islamic Art History. They serve as expressive, decorative representations of Islamic history and a major entity in the world’s extraordinary history of art as a whole.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Reopens the Islamic Art Arab Lands Wing
Islamic Art Makes An Impression in NYC’s Metropolitan Museum Of Art
Last November the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled its newly renovated and renamed Galleries for the Art of Arab Lands: Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. $40 million dollars worth of work went into making the 19,000 square foot space. The word Islam is purposely missing in their title and Islamic art is presented from seventh century Damascus and Baghdad to Moorish Spain, the Ottoman Empire and 16th century South Asia in thematic flows that allow visitors to walk to and from various periods “out of order.” They also incorporate influences of other religions and artistic periods on Islamic arts.
There are 15 galleries and the range of art on display is massive. Out of the Met’s nearly 12,000 items in its’ permanent collection, nearly 1,200 items are on display. Quranic calligraphy, an Iranian prayer niche, and even a fully in tact reception room named “The Damascus Room” which was taken from an upper-class merchant’s home, from Damascus, Syria, are all featured works of art in the galleries. I was lucky enough to take a tour with a docent at the Museum who was full of information on the galleries and the pieces on display.
A hallmark of Islamic Art is the idea of taking something ordinary and making it extra-ordinary. This was accomplished by incorporating intricate patterns in the body of the pieces such as a continual floral design of vine to leaf and so on. This is known as Arabesque, or in the style of Arab and is seen on carpets, mosaics, and pages of the Quran.
The brazier pictured below is a functional object that was used everyday, but with the artistic embellishments, it goes from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. A brazier was used as a portable grill or heater.
This piece is known as the Brazier of Sultan al-Malik al Muzaffar Shams al-Din Yusuf ibn ‘Umar from the second half of the 13th century. It’s made out of brass and inlaid with silver and black compound. It is decorated with Arabic script and symbols around the body and lion-headed knobs on the sides, which provided a place for handles in order to transport the piece. In each corner of the brazier is a five-petal led rosette upon a circular shield, which was an emblem for the second ruler of the Rasulid Dynasty (1290-95) (Mamluk).
I found this page from an early Quran most remarkable. It pays homage to the neighboring Byzantine Empire gilded manuscripts, where the parchment was dyed purple and the script would be in gold.
Of course, I can’t talk about an exhibit that features art from the Arab lands and not mention antique carpets. The museum houses close to 500 rugs in its permanent collection. On our tour we looked at two remarkable ones. The one I want to share with you is The Emperors Carpet. This is probably the finest rug produced from the royal rug weavers from the Safavid court. The Safavids were the most significant ruling dynasty in Iran from 1501-1722.
This rug lived in Vienna at one of the Hapsburg Palaces. The colors of this rug are rich and luxurious as are the intricate designs and the attention to detail is superb. There are floral scrolls, large palmettes, and Chinese mythological creatures. Lions and Buffalos are featured in the center. A verse in the inner guard band compares a garden in Persia during springtime to the Garden of Paradise.
The final piece de reistance in the galleries is a courtyard the was made specifically for the Met by a family from Fez, Morocco. The courtyard looks out and faces the galleries of the preceding empires that heavily influenced the art of Islam. This courtyard shows that Islamic art is living and breathing. All the plaster work and the fountain were made by hand.
What I was struck with when I walked away from visiting the galleries was the sheer vastness, intricate detail, and influence of other cultures which all play a part in the Art of the Arab Lands.