Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Umayyad Caliphate and the birth of Islamic art

The new faith and new polity  inaugurated by Muhammad was greatly expanded and consolidated during the Umaayad dynasty. It was in the context of the new empire, and under Umayyad rule that the question of  art emerged in Islam as a new and somewhat pressing question: in the contact with the more advanced, rich and dynamic artistic cultures of Persia, Syria, Byzantium, also in the process of the submission, conversion and  administration of different peoples, and in the confront with the symbols of power and the symbols of faith of the subjugated or competing powers and cultures.  

In the birth of Islamic art, adaptation of forms was an important part of the process. The other crucial part was related to the demands of the new faith: the religious conceptions of human life and purpose, of the nature of the divine, of the social bond and social-political organization as determined by the divine will and the divine plan for humanity.  

The identity and originality of the new art had its sources in the unique set of values and ideas, institutions and practices that artists, architects and craftsman were called, or we could also say: were challenged, to give form and expression.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima

The Umayyad Caliphate (Arabic: بنو أمية‎, trans. Banu Umayyah; "Sons of Umayyah") was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the city of Mecca, their capital was Damascus. At its greatest extent, it covered more than five million square miles (13,000,000 km2), making it one of the largest empires the world had yet seen, and the fifth largest contiguous empire ever to exist. After the Umayyads were overthrown by the Abbasid Caliphate, they fled across North Africa to Al-Andalus, where they established the Caliphate of Córdoba, which lasted until 1031.

source: Wikipedia
Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent.

Umayyad Period: from Muawiya Caliph  661,  until 750  when the Abbasid defeated and killed Marwan II: Fall of the dynasty 

Area :  750 - 7,000,000 km2 (2,702,715 sq mi)
Population  - 7th century: est. 62,000,000

Umayyad Chronology

Umayyad Genealogy

source: Wikipedia 

Umayyad civilization was both novel and traditional: novel in its search for intellectual, administrative, and cultural forms to fit new people and new ideas and attitudes; traditional in seeking its forms in the world it conquered. Selective of its models , it not only combined them in an inventive way but also slowly modified them, thereby creating the basis for later Islamic developments. (…)
Thus we must consider the art of the Umayyads in the context of an active creation of a new mode of life on old patterns and of still unsystematized but conscious relationship to several ancient cultures.”

Ettinghausen and Grabar, 1987, pp 26-27

 Dome of the Rock monument and complex

Umayyad Mosque in Damascus,  images source: Wikipedia

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