Why Geometry?

May 2022

Reflections on the decorative arts of Islam

Complex geometrical patterns are a well-known feature of Islamic art and architecture, together with its proclivity for highly symmetrical arrangements. But what are the origins of this mode? And what aspects of the Islamic ethos does this broad stylistic predisposition actually reflect?

There is a natural reluctance among serious historians of Islamic Art to jump to facile conclusions on the evolution of Islamic decorative forms – which is understandable given the paucity of archaeological evidence. But clearly there must be a reason, and a compelling one, for the continuing use of strong symmetrical arrangements and highly geometric modes of decoration by the many nationalities and ethnicities within the Islamic sphere for well over a thousand years.

The following observations revisit various aspects of this subject that have been touched on in the earlier Notes & Texts in order to delve a little deeper into this question.

  1. Theories, Problems & Evidence
  2. Symbolic Meaning
  3. Early Islamic Art: The emergence of an Islamic aesthetic sensibility
  4. Islam’s Greek inheritance: Mathematics, Science and Philosophy
  5. Theoretical geometry and artisanal practice in the Islamic world
  6. Mathematics in the Islamic World and Its Involvement in Geometric Ornament
  7. Concluding observations
  8. Postscript A: Academic Mathematical Involvement in Islamic Geometric Ornament
  9. Postscript B: Islamic Geometricism and the ‘Sunni Revival’ Thesis