Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Three: Geometric Design in Islamic Art/ Featured Works of Art: Images 12–15/ Image 13

Image 13

Textile fragment
14th century
Silk, lampas; 40 3⁄16 x 14 5⁄16 in. (102 x 36.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1929 (29.22)

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Calligraphy (kufic script), Nasrid kingdom, Spain, geometric ornament, silk

This textile fragment demonstrates the ease with which geometric design is adapted to the technique of weaving. Textiles like this are created on a loom and are composed of warps (yarns that run vertically) and wefts (yarns that run horizontally). Together, the warps and wefts create a regular grid that naturally lends itself to geometric design.

Silk textiles were expensive luxury objects often commissioned by the court or other wealthy patrons. They may have furnished wealthy homes or served as charitable gifts to mosques. This silk fragment displays decorative bands of varying widths, each of which has its own complex, self-contained geometric design.

This textile exhibits many of the key characteristics of geometric design. Each self-contained design is symmetrical and appears as though it could extend infinitely past the edges of the textile. The thin black and white patterned bands toward the top of the piece exemplify the idea of reflection. Each black crenellation (stepped design) creates an identical and reciprocal white one, and vice versa. In the wide band at the bottom are four rows of five stars, each bordered by yellow bands that extend out, interlacing and generating a secondary repeating motif of interlocking squares. The weaver used this geometric design to play with foreground and background perception. The viewer's eye follows each yellow band as it goes under and over others, even though the composition is without actual physical depth. In addition to the seven distinct geometric designs, this textile also features calligraphic decoration in naskh script (see also proportional scripts, fig. 13), highlighting the decorative and proportional relationship between geometric design and calligraphy (which here reads "good luck and prosperity").

This textile was created during the reign of the Nasrids, who ruled parts of southern Spain from 1232 to 1492. The reign of the Nasrids is considered to be a golden age of Islamic Spain. It was in this period that the Alhambra Palace, famed for its artistic and architectural beauty, was built in the Nasrid capital of Granada. Many of the geometric designs on this textile resemble those used in the architectural decoration and tilework of the Alhambra (see fig. 23). A present-day example of this kind of tilework can be seen in the Museum's Moroccan Court (see image 12). Textiles similar to this one were still produced after the fall of the Nasrid kingdom, indicating their continued appeal and the European conquerors' admiration for Andalusian art.

(See also image 22.)

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History