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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on February 19, 2003


By Siddiqua Shahnawaz

Arabesque Islamic Art - Still Life Ceramic


In classical Islamic Art, ornamentation has such a significant value that it can be seen in every artistic expression from the carved marble panels of grand Mughal doorways in India, to the elegant blue ceramic tiles of Masjids in Iran, to the tiniest of decorative artefacts in Syria. 

Arabesque - its style, composition and principles can be found in virtually every objet d'art of classical Islam.

Origin and Development of Arabesque

Due to the dissuasion of representation of human and, at times, animal rendition in Islamic Art, other depictions of art emerged which evolved into highly stylized renditions of subjects like foliage, flowers and an extensive use of abstract geometric designs. One can find the principles of geometry along with a keen sense of balance in composition strongly embedded in Islamic art.

The single most important factor that influenced the creation and evolution of Islamic Art is the Qur'an itself. One can find many verses in the Qur'an mentioning the beauty and abundance of Paradise with its exquisite gardens beneath which rivers flow. Thus, depiction of foliage in its varied forms became a very prominent feature of Arabesque art. One can visualise a strong link between art and nature in Islamic monuments where scrolling vines, surreal flowers and gracefully flowing leaves can be seen everywhere from the decoration of Qur'anic manuscripts to the grandiosity of architectural monuments. Such art does seem to evoke a feeling of heavenly grandeur although it is not a direct depiction of heaven.

Thus, while Islamic design has a decorative expression, it also conveys a much deeper meaning of a higher reality.

The Art and Science of Arabesque

Along with flora, geometry has always had a strong presence as well. There are many factors that contribute to its growth - one is that Islam and science were never seen as two separate subjects. From the Islamic viewpoint, geometry is one of the streams that flows from the Fountainhead of Islam. This belief that science is an integral part of Islam led to many discoveries and advancements in the field of mathematics by Muslims.

This had a very rich influence in Islamic Art which beautifully combined artistic foliage designs with geometric principles to create exquisite works of art unique only to the Islamic Cultural heritage.


Geometric ornamentation has been rendered in almost every media known to Muslim Artists and Artisans - like ceramic tiles, brickwork, metalwork, stucco, stonework, mosaic, and of course marble inlays. Among these all, ceramic tiles emerged as the most outstanding medium of them all. 

Radiating networks of fascinating geometric compositions interlaced with the delicateness of almost surreal foliage ornamentation has a unique abstract quality found only in Islamic Art. Enriched by the purity of vivid colours, ceramic artwork invigorates the beholder's visual senses beyond the material reality.

At times, combination of various materials also played an important role in further highlighting the Arabesque. An appropriate example would be the aesthetic combination of Sandstone and marble inlay in Mughal Art and architecture.

One feature that is unique to the Shi'a branch of Islam is the use of mirrors in the ornamentation of the interior architecture of holy places. A dazzling arrangement of tiny pieces of mirrors using complex principles of geometry in three dimensional inlays, usually decorates the domed ceilings and walls of mausoleums of the Holy Ahlul Bayt. This gives the place an almost celestial feeling. It is also a symbol of purity of the Holy Ahlul Bayt (Qur'an 33:33).

Thus, Islamic Art emerged with a unique blend of various qualities of aesthetics, science, philosophy, and symbolism. It is the epitome of what can be described nowadays as conceptual art.

Regional Influence in Islamic Design

Although arabesque has strong roots in the Arab rendition of art, it does show a much wider flavour of regional influence. For example, traditional arabesque relating to the predominant Arab world has a much more realistic style as compared to the highly stylized Persian or Mughal styles. 

In Iranian art, one can see the extensive use of a dynamic ceramic blue colour as well as a much finer and delicate brushwork. Mughal art has quite beautifully synthesized traditional Indian and Islamic artistic principles and evolved into a very unique style of its own.

The reason why Arabesque gained as much significance and popularity throughout the Islamic world is mainly because it has flexibly evolved and flourished regionally, while still retaining its original principles.


Author: Siddiqua Shahnawaz
Photographers: Unknown
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Production: Hj S. Abidin
Published Date: 19th February, 2003
Modification Date: 13th January 2009/ 16th Muharram, 1430
Publication ID: 03arabEsque.  Arabesque
Copyright: Victory News Magazine, 2009


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