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The Qur’an and Islamic Art

Throughout the world, manuscript collections and museums of Islamic art include a great number of Qur’an manuscripts in different forms, sizes, materials and levels of decoration.

In the previous activity we looked at one important type of aniconic, or non-figural, decoration in Qur’an manuscripts and Islamic art – calligraphy. In this activity we will look at the two other types of abstract aniconic design: geometric designs and vegetal motifs (Islīmī).

Geometric Patterns: Geometric patterns and designs generate from simple forms such as circles and squares that are combined, duplicated, interlaced, and arranged in intricate combinations to form patterns. Geometric designs use four basic shapes, or repeat units: circles, squares, stars (from squares and triangles in a circle), and multi-sided polygons.

Vegetal Patterns and Motifs (Islīmī): Vegetal motifs were frequently used to ornament manuscripts. Between the twelfth and tenth centuries a highly abstract and stylised Islamic form of the vegetal motif emerged. This is sometimes referred to as ‘arabesque.’ In the 16th and 17th centuries, the empires of the Ottomans (Turkey), Safavids (Iran), and the Mughals (India) incorporated complicated versions of these patterns, which sometimes this incorporated a new interest in naturalistic-looking flowers.

Illumination: The technique of embellishing the written text in manuscripts with gold or bright colours is known as ‘illumination’.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham