About This Website
All of the images available here are drawn from the rich heritage of architectural decoration in the Islamic world, a subject that has long fascinated me. The bulk of the images derive from my own photo-archive, the fruits of a whole series of trips to different parts of the Islamic world, together with my own drawings and analyses of Islamic patterns taken from various publications. This collection is augmented with a selection of earlier printed material dealing with the same subject.
I feel that this marvellous artistic tradition deserves to be better known and that it has a great deal to offer, not only to art-historians and other specialists, but to designers and lovers of art and beauty everywhere. At their best these images express a refined and even sublime aesthetic sensibility, but they always remain perfectly accessible. Because of this they seem to me to offer a particularly appropriate antidote to the fears and suspicions that may have been induced by recent notions of a ‘clash of civilisations’. The need to express and appreciate Beauty, through Art, is surely a universal human response.
How to find your way around
The problem here, as with any extensive collection of images, is to locate those that might be relevant or inspiring without becoming bogged down by those that are not. To make the archive as accessible as possible then, there are various search options for both general, and more specific, requirements.
Firstly, there are a series of Slideshows each presenting 50 select images of architectural decoration from a particular country or region.
The Main Archive by Region itself can be browsed in its entirety region by region, image by image.
For those with more specific requirements there are other search options The images are indexed in a number of different ways; by the Medium in which they were made (ceramics, plaster, wood etc.); by the Architectural Feature involved (doors, domes, ceilings, walls etc.) also by their location (in a particular Town), and by specific Monuments. To explore the Photo-Archive in this way go to Other Browse Options.
In addition to the above, every image on the website can be found via its individual Catalogue Number (just use the search box).
When they are called up every image from the Main Archive, Peripheral Material and Museums is accompanied by a data panel. Together with the monuments name this gives the Town, Region and, wherever possible, its date and dynasty*. It also indicates the architectural feature, the medium employed, and the particular category of decoration (i.e. Geometric, Calligraphic or Floriated Arabesque). There is, as well, Additional Information regarding alternative names for monuments, the use of details etc.
Links to the appropriate images on our sister site, www.Tilingsearch.org which offers digitised versions of particular patterns, may be found on an adjacent panel.
*There are obvious complications with dating - one cannot always be sure that a given architectural feature is coeval with its monument or whether it is a later addition, or indeed, a much later restoration. The dates given in the data-panels are usually the foundation dates of the monument involved, and the Dynasty that of the founding dynasty. Later additions and restorations are indicated as such according to the best available knowledge.
Other features of this website
In addition to the photo-images themselves, there is a range of other material relating to the general subject of Islamic pattern available on this website.
Much of the appeal of Islamic decorative art derives from its abiding preoccupation with formal, and often highly complex, geometries. It seems appropriate in this context to present the work of various individuals who have investigated these patterns and their underlying construction. Two of the most notable were the 19th century Frenchman, Jules Bourgoin, and E. Hanbury Hankin, Chief Botanist in the early 20th century British Raj - the former being a formidable collector of Islamic patterns, the latter a determined investigator of their construction. We have also included the work of David Wade in this field, taken from various of his publications, and are pleased to add Nick Crossling's marvellous drawings and analyses of Persian 10-fold patterns.
A series of texts are available that place the rich traditions of Islamic decorative art in context. They trace the origins and development of Islam itself, and examine the various cultural influences that have contributed to its particular aesthetic preferences. Background Note #1 deals with the Historical setting and rise of Islam; #2 the all-important Religious dimension; #3 the Philosophical and scientific contribution (particularly the impact of Greek thought on Islamic culture); #4 shows how, as Islam gained cultural confidence, it naturally evolved its own distinctive styles - artistic as well as social. Note #5 deals with the Materials and mediums chosen to express these styles; #6 with both the basic Islamic stylistic unity, and the many variations of its expressions found throughout the widespread Islamic world. These notes conclude with a personal reflection on this broad subject.
There is something of a history of the influence of Islamic art on that of the west. In fact Islamic art and architecture exerted a distant influence on Europe from the medieval period on. But the European incursions into the Islamic world in the 19th century mark the beginnings of a recognition, by some at least, of its high aesthetic achievements. Happily, this wave of interest coincided with the development of high quality photo-lithography. This resulted in a whole range of magnificent printed books, extracts from which are reproduced here - together with other relevant published material.
Many of the patterns found in ‘Pattern in Islamic Art’ are readily linkable to Brian Wichmann’s Tilingsearch site, where they are analysed in geometrical detail. Wichmann’s website provides high quality digitised images of the patterns involved, the symmetry groups to which they belong and the means of locating these images by means of their geometric properties. It also provides an authoritative source of these patterns and their appearance in other settings. It is strongly recommended.
Glossary & Bibliography
Various technical and other terms from the Islamic world are used in this website, for which there is a Glossary. There is also a Bibliography, listing a broad selection of books relating to this subject, many of which are still in print.