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Arts of the Islamic world

Studying the Art of the Islamic world is challenging, partially because of the large geographic and chronological scope of Islam. Islam has been a major religion and cultural force for over fourteen centuries and continues to be so today. At present the Arts of the Islamic World Section is organized into three chronological periods: Early, Medieval and Late. These chronological divisions are modern creations that help scholars to organize information and works of art to interpret them better. Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker of Smarthistory together with leading art historians, and our museum partners have created hundreds of short engaging conversational videos and articles, making Khan Academy one of the most accessible and extensive resources for the study of the history of art.
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A beginner's guide to the arts of the Islamic world

The Dome of the Rock, the Taj Mahal, a Mina’i ware bowl, a silk carpet, a Qur‘an; all of these are examples of Islamic Art. But what is Islamic Art? Islamic Art is a modern concept, created by art historians in the nineteenth century to categorize and study the material first produced under the Islamic peoples that emerged from Arabia in the seventh century. Today Islamic Art describes all of the arts that were produced in the lands where Islam was the dominant religion or the religion of those who ruled. Unlike the terms Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist art, which refer only to religious art of these faiths, Islamic art is not used merely to describe religious art or architecture, but applies to all art forms produced in the Islamic World.
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Early period

Early Period (c. 640-900 C.E.) After Muhammad’s death in 634, there were four rightfully guided caliphs who succeeded Muhammad. However, from 656 there were conflicts over succession. Out of these wars emerged the Umayyad Dynasty which was responsible for the first great monuments of Islamic art and architecture. Umayyad rulers built the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Great Mosque of Damascus, and the so-called Desert Palaces in Syro-Palestine. The Umayyads ruled as caliphs until 750 C.E., when they were overthrown by the Abbasids. The Abbasids ruled as caliphs over much of the Islamic world until 861. Their capital was at Baghdad, and later Samarra. After 861, the Abbasids lost control of large parts of their empire to a series of local dynasties.
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Medieval period

Medieval Period (c. 900-1517 C.E.) By the tenth century, there was fragmentation and individual dynasties sprang up. These dynasties had varying degrees of control over different parts of the lands where Islam was the dominant or a major religion. In North Africa and the Near East, certain major dynasties, such as the Fatimids (909-1171), emerged and ruled an area that includes present-day Egypt, Sicily, Algeria, Tunisia, and parts of Syria. It is also at this time that some of the major Turkic dynasties and people from Central Asia came to the forefront of politics and artistic creativity in the Islamic world. The Seljuqs were Central Asian nomads who ruled eastern Islamic lands and eventually controlled Iran, Iraq and much of Anatolia, although this empire was short-lived. The main branch of the Seljuqs, the Great Seljuqs, maintained control over Iran.
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Late period

Later Period (c. 1517 –1924 C.E.) This period is the era of the last great Islamic Empires. The Ottoman Empire, which had started as a small Turkic state in Anatolia in the early fourteenth century, emerged in the second half of the fifteenth century as a major military and political force. In 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and the Mamluk Empire in 1517. They dominated much of Anatolia, the Balkans, the Near East and North Africa until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Ottomans are famous for their domed architecture and pencil minarets, many of which were built by the great architect, Sinan for Sultan Süleyman (r. 1520–66). This period is considered the peak of Ottoman art and culture.
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Arts of the Islamic world (quiz)

Test your knowledge of the arts of the Islamic world!