Byzantine Art under Islam

See works of art
  • Tusk Fragment with the Ascension
  • Tusk Fragment with Christ Enthroned
  • Hanging with Polychrome Columns
  • The Fieschi Morgan Staurotheke
  • Yellow-Green Hexagonal Glass Bottle with a Stylite Saint
  • Ostrakon with Menanders Sentences
  • Jug with Medallions
  • Batrashil
  • Illuminated Gospel
  • Processional Cross

Works of Art (11)


The Byzantine empire‘s interaction with Islamic culture had a profound effect on its art. Islam’s rise and military success were the greatest threat to the stability of the empire and its territories. Mirroring the political climate, art became a medium of confrontation and cooperation between the two sides. The exchange and adaptation of motifs and genres became a common expression of power and individuality in the face of constantly changing relations between the two groups.

Islamic leaders were impressed by Byzantine mosaics and invited mosaicists to work on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Islamic artists used Christian models for iconography. Meanwhile, Byzantine artists adapted Islamic motifs for their own use. The First Church of the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, in Phokis, Greece, is decorated with patterns based on the Arab kufic script. The words do not mean anything, they are purely aesthetic, but they are clearly a nod to Islamic art. The batrashil (14.137), a silk liturgical vestment, shows an understanding of Syriac and Arabic, this time in its legible form—the artist even used Arabic to sign her name. The writing is embroidered onto the garment. A processional cross (1999.103) from Ethiopia is a fusion of wood sculpture and metalwork clearly inspired by Islamic shapes and patterns, which were most likely learned from textiles, ceramic vessels and tiles, and glass developed in the Muslim world. The illuminated gospel (1998.66) from Ethiopia also employs a design inspired by Islamic ornamentation known as harag, which means the tendril of a climbing plant.

Annie Labatt
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Charlotte Appleyard
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004


Labatt, Annie, and Charlotte Appleyard. “Byzantine Art under Islam.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Further Reading

Cutler, Anthony. "Tiles and Tribulations: A Community of Clay across Byzantium and Its Adversaries." In A Lost Art Rediscovered: The Architectural Ceramics of Byzantium, edited by Sharon E. J. Gerstel and Julie A. Lauffenburger, pp. 159–69. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 2001.

Ettinghausen, Richard. From Byzantium to Sasanian Iran and the Islamic World: Three Modes of Artistic Influence. Leiden: Brill, 1972.

Grabar, Oleg. "Islamic Influence on Byzantine Art." In The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Miles, George C. "Byzantium and the Arabs: Relations in Crete and the Aegean Area." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964), pp. 1–32.

Nelson, Robert S. "Palaeologan Illuminated Ornament and the Arabesque." Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 41 (1988), pp. 1–22.

Redford, Scott. "Byzantium and the Islamic World, 1261–1557." In Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557), edited by Helen C. Evans, pp. 389–96. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. See on MetPublications

Soucek, Priscilla. "Byzantium and the Islamic East." In The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261, edited by Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom, pp. 402–34. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. See on MetPublications

Additional Essays by Annie Labatt

Additional Essays by Charlotte Appleyard