Medieval Islamic Art the Transition Essay

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The result is that the minarets which are more probably rooted in the experiences, technologies and impulses of the now extinct Byzantines are part of the religious iconography of both ancient and modern Islamic culture.

That said, the eventuality by which the Byzantine identity was erased from formal existence would have a significant bearing on the emergence of a yet more self-aware Islamic architectural philosophy. Garber indicates that we may draw a separation -- though it is not entirely clear where to draw this from a chronological perspective -- between the period of transition and the period by which the Islamic leadership had begun to seek out a more pointedly Islamic ideology. In other words, the goals of repurposing eventually began to recede as Muslim architects sought new ways of targeting its proposed functions. Accordingly, Grabar tells that of some of the artifacts left behind from succeeding generations of Umayyad rulership, we may deduce a concerted effort to be distinguished from these forms. Grabar indicates of palatial estates to Arab rulers in particular, "while most of the architectural components of these palaces and many of the habits of life enjoyed in them find parallels in the Mediterranean tradition, the specific combination of functions illustrated by the palaces cannot be explained as a Byzantine Christian type modified by various characteristics of a new taste. For, except for a few depictions on mosaics in North Africa, there is no evidence that the combinations of forms and purposes which appear in Umayyad palaces were characteristic of secular architecture of the Near East before the Muslim conquest." (p. 77)

This denotes an important consideration though. Grabar reveals a degree of historiography which influences the whole of our discussion and determines how much we know and how much has been left to speculation. Namely, we are given a great deal of concrete evidence of the connection between the Islamic identity -- a thriving world culture -- that is not available to us with respect to the fallen Roman Empire and its Byzantine incarnation. Therefore, Grabar warns that "in the cities, then, one may assume a continuation of older patterns of life and construction, with the addition of only a few new architectural compositions serving precise new needs but without as yet the use of many new forms or techniques; it is probably only the mood of the cities which changed but this mood cannot be reconstructed with the evidence in our possession." (p. 74)

And herein rests the broader challenge of this discussion. Namely, we are left to assess the conditions defining a transition period which may have truly taken place over several centuries. From the integration of Byzantine architectural values into the Arab landscape to the revelations that forged an inseparable link between Islamic faith and Arab culture, pieces of cultural experience would be gathered to formulate a new and self-perpetuating identity. The palaces, garrisons and mosques that are left behind -- and indeed those that are constructed today -- imply a pointedly Islamic symbology but our findings suggest that this was not conceived with the same immediacy as the visions of the Prophet Mohammed. Instead, the immediacy of Mohammed's prophecies would make it necessary for the burgeoning Islamic movement to take on the forms of the existing order and mold them to serve its purposes. The lasting connection between these forms and the Islamic identity is sufficient evidence that they succeeded dramatically in this objective. Moreover, the evolution of Islamic architecture over the succeeding years would suggest the Byzantine innovations to be largely a jumping off point for a culture with its own importance to the development of current world civilization. In both the transition between the two Empires and in the effort of the Islamic Empire thereafter to cast its own legacy, we can seen the reciprocity between culture, hegemony, geography and architecture.

Works Cited:

Ettinghausen, R.; Grabar, O. & Jenkins-Madina, M. (2003). Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250. Yale University Press.

Golombek, L. (1988). The Draped Universe of Islam. Colloquium in Memory of Richard Ettinghausen: New York University.

Grabar, O. (1964). Islamic Art and the Byzantium. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 18, 67-88.

Ismail, O.S.A. (1968). The Founding…[continue]

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