Introducing the arts of the Islamic world to a new audience is often a challenge for scholars, not only because the reader may be unfamiliar with the names or chronology, but also because the subject covers such a vast geographic area. Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250 by Richard Ettinghausen, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina provides a thorough overview to the arts and architecture of the Islamic world from North Africa to Central Asia beginning with the jahiliyya (pre-Islamic) period and ending with the Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258. The book illustrates a wide array of objects both secular and sacred, luxurious and mundane.
Two major points distinguish this publication from other surveys of Islamic art. First, its historical narrative is driven by geography and chronology. Chapters are organized largely by dynasty, emphasizing the constant exchange between centers and peripheries in the development of distinctive regional styles. This structure does falter a bit when dealing with those periods in which several dynasties vied for control, such as the era of the Fatimid dynasty (909–1171) in North Africa or the Saminid dynasty (ca. 900–1000) in Iran, but, overall, the text provides ample orientation.
The second point of interest about this survey is its relationship to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's own collection. Richard Ettinghausen and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina are former curators in the Department of Islamic Art, and in writing this book they have drawn on their experiences with Met objects. A visitor would be rewarded to read the book and visit the recently reopened galleries, where many of the objects mentioned are on display.
Absolute neophytes to Islamic art would do well to read this book alongside Robert Hillenbrand's, or broader surveys by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom (see below for additional reading). Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250 is a necessary counterpart to these books, while also acting as a unique survey whose narratives continue to inform the periodizations of material and visual culture in the medieval Middle East.
About the Book
Richard Ettinghausen, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250, Yale University Press, 2001