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The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 11, The Islamic World

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 11, The Islamic World

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, introduction by Stuart Cary Welch
160 pages
142 illustrations
9 x 12 in
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In A.D. 622, Islam, the world's last monotheistic religion, was born in Arabia. A century later, the Muslim world stretched from Spain across North Africa and into Persia, Mesopotamia, and part of India. Inspired by the holy word of God, as it was revealed by the Prophet Muhammad in the Koran, and drawing upon the traditions of the many disparate peoples who now commingled with adherents of the new faith, Muslims succeeded in creating their own distinctive art—often starkly simple and pious, but just as often opulent and sensual.

A saying ascribed to the Prophet claims that "God is beautiful and loves beauty," therefore copying the Koran and the lavish decorating of mosques became revered tasks throughout Islam: calligraphy was raised to a level of perfection known in few other cultures, while complex arabesque and geometric patterning was employed to embellish mosques and to decorate smaller sacred and secular objects as well.

Along with the tradition of elegant calligraphy and abstract patterning, Islamic art also possesses a rich body of narrative art and delightful depictions of rulers, heroes, and common men, as well as real and imagined beasts and sumptuous dwellings and gardens. Indeed, among a people whose religious birthplace was a stark and arid land, an ideal world of flowing water, lush plant life, and richly colored carpeting and tile was dramatically illustrated by painters and often actually constructed by architects and artisans, offering them and us tantalizing glimpses of an earthly paradise.

In The Islamic World over 140 objects and pictures are reproduced, giving a sweeping view of the many styles and mediums in which Islamic artists worked, from Spain to India, over more than ten centuries. Pages from Korans, epic poems, poetic anthologies, and albums, as well as glasswork, jewelry, and stone- and woodcarving show the rich variety of Islamic art. A room from Damascus, created in the eighteenth century, reveals the exquisite craftsmanship for which Islamic architects, woodcarvers, and ceramists are justly famous. Examples of the various calligraphic styles are shown in pages of Korans copied throughout the Islamic world. Illustrations from such famous secular works as the Houghton Shah-nameh and the album created for Shah Jahan reveal the vivid imagination and consummate skill of Islamic artists and the important part played by local traditions in forming this unique aesthetic.

Islamic glass and ceramics, beautiful in themselves and critically important in the development of these mediums in the West, are illustrated by examples drawn from every corner of the Muslim world, while carpets—probably the art form that in the West is most closely associated with Islamic craftsmanship—are profusely illustrated by examples from Mamluk Egypt, Safavid Iran, Ottoman Turkey, and Mughal India. Together, the paintings and objects reproduced here offer a richly rewarding aesthetic adventure and a revealing picture of the variety and brilliance of over ten centuries of artistic achievement.

Basin with Figural Imagery, Brass; raised, engraved, and inlaid with silver and gold
early 14th century
Qur'an Manuscript, Main support: ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment; Binding: leather; tooled
late 9th–early 10th century
Ewer with a Feline-Shaped Handle, Bronze; cast, chased, and inlaid with copper
7th century
Throne Leg in the Shape of a Griffin, Bronze; cast around a ceramic core and chased
late 7th–early 8th century
Animal Flask, Glass, amber-colored; blown, applied decoration
late 7th–8th century
Bowl, Glass, colorless with greenish tinge; mold blown, cut
8th–9th century
Beaker with Relief-cut Decoration, Glass, colorless; blown, cut
9th–10th century
Pair of Doors Carved in the 'Beveled Style', Wood (teak); carved
9th century
Bowl Emulating Chinese Stoneware, Earthenware; painted in blue on opaque white glaze
9th century
Three-Color Luster Bowl with a Checkerboard Pattern, Earthenware; polychrome luster-painted on opaque white glaze
9th century
Bowl depicting a Man holding a Cup and a Flowering Branch, Earthenware; luster-painted on opaque white glaze
10th century
Bowl with Arabic Inscription, Earthenware; white slip with black-slip decoration under transparent glaze
10th century
Bowl with Green, Yellow, and Brown Splashed Decoration, Earthenware; white slip, incised and splashed with polychrome glazes under transparent glaze (sgraffito ware)
10th century
Bowl with Eagle, Muslim Ibn al-Dahhan  Egyptian, Earthenware; luster-painted on opaque white glaze
Muslim Ibn al-Dahhan
ca. 1000
Panel with Horse Heads, Wood (teak); carved
11th century
Tiraz Textile Fragment, Cotton, ink, and gold; plain weave, resist-dyed (ikat), painted<br/>Inscription: black ink and gold leaf; painted
late 9th–early 10th century
Biconical Bead with Scrolls, Gold; filigree and granulation
11th century
Panel from a Rectangular Box, Ivory; carved, inlaid with stone with traces of pigment
10th–early 11th century
Small Glass Ewer, Glass, green; blown, applied handle and decoration
11th century
Folios from a Qur'an Manuscript in Floriated "New Style" Script, Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
11th century
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———, eds. 1987b. The Islamic World. New York: The Museum.