The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of Islamic art is one of the most important and comprehensive in the world. It comprises more than twelve thousand works of art created in a vast geographical area, stretching from Spain to India. The works were produced between the seventh century (the beginning of the Islamic period) and the nineteenth in a wide range of media, including works on paper (such as paintings and calligraphy), ceramics, glass, metalwork, lacquer, and textiles. Although this resource focuses on the strengths of the Museum's collection—art of the Arab lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and later South Asia (particularly the Indian subcontinent)—it is important to note that Islamic art was also created in many parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and China during this long period and continues to be produced today.
This guide and the organization of the Museum's galleries emphasize the diversity of regional traditions and their cultural contexts, rather than presenting the art and culture of the Islamic world as a single monolithic entity dominated by religion. The art of these regions—both religious and secular—has been studied and presented together because Muslim dynasties ruled them for long periods of time and works of art were largely commissioned by Muslim patrons. Therefore, this art has traditionally been referred to as Islamic art. In some cases, the artists and craftsmen who created these works were non-Muslims living under Muslim rule. While Islam has been practiced in all of these regions since the seventh century, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists have also been a part of the communities within this geographic expanse. The common thread of Islam unites these regions and thus major recurring themes, forms, and modes of expression emerge. This guide aims to highlight these commonalities, while emphasizing the unique culture of each region.