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Landscape

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Landscape

Although landscape was never an important art genre in Islamic art, the beauty of nature provided an important source of inspiration for the artists of the Islamic lands. Buildings from early Islamic times, such as the Dome of the Rock (692; see Jerusalem, §II, A) and the Great Mosque of Damascus (705–15; see Damascus, §III), show an extensive use of landscape elements in their decoration, presumably in association with the image of paradise. Apart from indigenously developed views towards landscape, Muslim awareness of the potential of nature for their artistic expression owed much to two foreign catalysts—China and Europe. Along with the introduction of Chinese pictorial traditions into West Asia generated by the Mongol invasion, Muslim painters began to embark on a naturalistic depiction of mountains, trees, rocks and water in a quasi-Chinese manner. This is particularly evident in Ilkhanid painting, for example in the scene of the Mountains of India in the Arabic manuscript of the Jami῾ al-tawārīkh of Rashid al-Din (Rashidiyya, 1314) By the mid-14th century, emphasis on naturalism had diminished in the rendering of landscape. Having re-interpreted Chinese landscape elements suitable for their own compositional and iconographical requirements, a unique landscape aesthetic began to be incorporated into both painting (for example, the Bihbihani Anthology of 1398; MS 1950; Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul) and architectural decoration of the late 14th and 15th centuries. The landscape style was to a large extent modified in Safavid painting, where twisted trees and spongy rocks were used to create a poetic, narrative ambience. The mature style of Safavid landscape is well reflected in the illustrations of the Shah Tahmasp Shāhnāma (Tabriz, 1525–35). Meanwhile, despite its stylistic indebtedness to the painting of the Iranian world, the use of landscape was somewhat reduced in scale in Ottoman painting, and nature became a secondary element. The turning point of landscape in Islamic art came in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Mughals, owing to the increased information about European traditions in landscape painting. This concurred with the introduction of vanishing-point perspective in painting of the Islamic world.

Bibliography

  • W. Watson, ed.: Landscape Style in Asia, Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia No.9 (London, 1980).
  • B. O’Kane: “Rock Faces and Rock Figures in Persian Painting,” Islam. A., iv (1990–91), pp. 219–46.
  • L. Golombek: “The Paysage as Funerary Imagery in the Timurid Period,” Muqarnas, x (1993), pp. 241–52.
  • B. O’Kane: “The Bihbihani Anthology and its Antecedents,” Orient. A., n.s., xlv/4 (1999–2000), pp. 9–18.
  • B. O’Kane: “The Arboreal Aesthetic: Landscape, Painting and Architecture from Mongol Iran to Mamluk Egypt,” The Iconography of Islamic Art: Studies in Honour of Robert Hillenbrand, ed. B. O’Kane (Edinburgh, 2005), pp. 223–51.
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