Praeger Picture Encyclopedia of Art: A Comprehensive Survey of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Crafts, Their Methods, Styles and Technical Terms, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day

By Frederick A Praeger | Go to book overview

Art outside Europe

ISLAMIC ART
327. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul (built beg. 17th cent.)

WHEN MAHOMET CONQUERED his native city, Mecca, in A. D. 630, he achieved his life's ambition. World-wide conversion had never entered his mind, yet scarcely was he dead than the most learned of his followers set down those 114 sections of the Koran that call for divinely ordained world conquest. Thirty years after Mahomet's death, Islam extended as far as the Caspian Sea and Afghanistan. Arabia, Persia, Syria, Egypt and Libya all acclaimed Allah and his prophet. The Caliphs of the Omayyad dynasty moved their capital from Medina to Damascus. Islam had become a world power.

The new faith was spread by the enthusiasm and devotion of its followers rather than by fire and sword. The Caliphs, contrary to popular belief, were very tolerant. Although non-Muslims were taxed more heavily, they were not in any way persecuted. The artists of the newly conquered countries were set extensive tasks, regardless of their religion. Syria and Egypt had belonged to the Byzantine Empire and Byzantine civilisation was to experience a last great flowering under the Omayyad rulers ( 661-750). Islamic art developed by gradual stages from the art of late Antiquity. The Great Mosque in Damascus and the façade of the desert palace of Mchatta in Jordan (now in the Islamic section of the Berlin Museum) alike testify to this.

The new faith was not limited to any particular race. The ruling dynasties -- originally Arab were at times Persian, at others Turkish. The Abbasid rulers succeeded the Omayyad Caliphs in Asia Minor and made Baghdad their capital in 758. The splendour of Harun-al-Rashid's court in the city is reflected in the 'Tales from the Arabian Nights'. Persian influence now became very marked. Persia had been under Sassanian rule before the Islamic conquest and the Abbasids, having absorbed Sassanian civilisation with its strongly marked Byzantine and Persian traits, continued to use Sassanian methods of government. This applied equally to Egypt, even after that country had become politically independent -- like several other territories -- in the 10th century.

Although the Muslim empire disintegrated during the Abbasid rule, this did not prevent Islam from spreading rapidly. It reached Russia and Siberia in the following centuries and flourished in India under the Mughal Emperors ( 1526-c. 1800); the Seljuk Turks began their attacks on Constantinople and the Balkans, which their Ottoman successors brought to a successful conclusion, reaching the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Western Europe had been invaded almost a thousand years earlier. The Moors conquered Spain in 711, crossed the Pyrenees and might have been a great danger to the West, if they had not been defeated

-516-

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