Feature Archive

Featured on the Web:
Understanding Islamic Art and its Influence

By Joseph Phelan
Three major exhibits currently on view in North American museums remind us of the greatness of the culture and civilization of the Islamic world and its transformative influence on Western Europe during the 8th to the 15th centuries.

For almost eight hundred years, the Iberian Peninsula in Spain formed part of the Islamic empire. This land, called "al Andalus" in Arabic was the most culturally sophisticated region of the continent, the unequaled artistic and scientific crossroads where Muslims, Jews and Catholics lived and worked and exchanged ideas in a harmony unequaled before or likely since.

Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spainnew window, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC through October 17, celebrates the art and legacy of this region and of the Mediterranean offering exquisite luxury objects including examples of ivory boxes, bronze vases, lusterware, silk textiles, sumptuous carpets, and illuminated Qur'ans and Bibles. The exhibit, made up entirely of the collection from the Hispanic Society of American, has an online feature with ten highlights of the exhibit.

Arts of Fire: The Islamic Influence on the Italian Renaissancenew window, nearing the end of its run at the Getty. Glass and ceramics are called the "arts of fire" because of the heat needed to create them. Getty curator Catherine Hess explains (in a video clip) how the exhibit was born from the realization that Islamic art forms and the technology used for their development were "entirely responsible" for the development of glass and luster painted ceramics in Renaissance Italy. The earliest objects in the show date from 9th century and originated in Syria and Iraq where the technologies of ancient Egypt and Rome were rediscovered. The exhibit follows how these objects were imported into Italy and how Italian craftsman learned to duplicate the technology and create their own unique objects in ceramics and glass.

Palace and Mosquenew window, at the National Gallery in Washington DC through early 2005, offers almost one hundred pieces from the superb collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The show begins with the fundamental importance of the written word in Islamic art above all the Qur'an. While Islam forbids representative art or depictions of the human figure in religious works the show makes clear that it permits such depictions in palaces and homes. Moreover, not all of the patrons were Muslim and the revelation of this show is that Islamic art of this period reflected a sophisticated secular culture as well as deeply religious art.

Like the Getty show, the National Gallery wants us to see how much European artists absorbed these Islamic influences. Going beyond glass, carpet and ceramics, these splendid craftsmen influenced the development of Western painting itself. A web feature, Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic Worldnew window, showcases twenty-four treasures from the permanent collection, ranging from the Italian Renaissance to the Impressionists and including some of the most notable artists in the collection such as Giotto, Mantegna, Bellini, Titian, Hans Memling and Renoir.

Teacher Guides: The Sackler-Freer has its own splendid collection of Islamic artnew window, and its exhibit A Closer Look: The Arts of Islamnew window offers an excellent introduction to the subject. There is a downloadable teacher guide to Islam with sections on "Calligraphy" "Art of the Mosque", "Arts of the Book" and "Art of the Portable Object".

Although the galleries of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are closed for remodeling, the indispensable Timeline of Art Historynew window features a number of units on the subject.


Past Articles

      Philadelphia is for Art Lovers, by Joseph Phelan
      Independence Day: Sanford R. Gifford and the Hudson River School, by Joseph Phelan
      The "Look" of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      The Importance of Being Odd: Nerdrum's Challenge to Modernism, by Paul A. Cantor

      Advent Calendar 2003, narrated by Joseph Phelan
      If Paintings Could Talk: Paul Johnson's Art: A New History, by Joseph Phelan
      Mad Max [Max Beckmann], by Joseph Phelan
      Marsden Hartley: The Return of the Native, by Joseph Phelan
      Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment, by Joseph Phelan
      Frederic Remington's Nocturnes, by Joseph Phelan
      Magnificenza! Titian and Michelangelo, Manet and Velazquez, by Joseph Phelan
      Masterful Leonardo and Graphic Dürer, by Joseph Phelan
      Favorite Online Art Museum Features, by Joseph Phelan
      Studies for Masterpieces, by John Malyon

      Portrait of the Artist as a Serial Killer, by Joseph Phelan
      Renoir's Travelling, Bonnard's "At Home", by Joseph Phelan
      The Philosopher as Hero: Raphael's The School of Athens, by Joseph Phelan
      The Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization
      Celebrating Heroes; Celebrating Benjamin West, by Joseph Phelan
      Chasing the Red Deer into the American Sublime (Education and the Art Museum, Part II), by Joseph Phelan
      Planning Your Summer Vacation, by Joseph Phelan
      Education and the Art Museum, Part I, by Joseph Phelan
      Unsung Griots of American Painting, by Joseph Phelan
      The British Museum COMPASS Project, interview by Joseph Phelan
      Robert Hughes, Time Magazine Art Critic: Biography and Writings

      Software review: Le Louvre: The Virtual Visit on DVD-ROM, by Joseph Phelan
      Tragedy and Triumph at Arles: Van Gogh and Gauguin, by Joseph Phelan
      Her Last Bow: Sister Wendy in America, by Joseph Phelan
      Love, Death and Resurrection: The Paintings of Stanley Spencer, by Joseph Phelan
      Who is Rodin's Thinker?, by Joseph Phelan
      Celebrations North and South, by Joseph Phelan
      Rubens and his Age, by Joseph Phelan
      Great Reproductions of Great Paintings
      The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      Edouard Manet: Public Spaces, Private Dreams, by Joseph Phelan
      Henry Moore and the British Museum: The Great Conversation, by Joseph Phelan

      Notorious Portraits, Part II, by John Malyon
      Notorious Portraits, Part I, by John Malyon
      The Other Michelangelo, by Joseph Phelan
      The Art of Drawing, by Joseph Phelan
      Poussin and the Heroic Landscape, by Joseph Phelan
      Great Art Museums Online, by Joseph Phelan
      Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape, by Joseph Phelan
      Forbidden Visions: Mythology in Art, by Joseph Phelan
      Themes in Art: The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      Web site review: Christus Rex
      Web site review: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., by Joseph Phelan
      Online exhibit review: Inuit Art: The World Around Me, by John Malyon
      Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Results)
      Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part II)

      Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part I)
      Spotlight on The Louvre Museum
      Spotlight on Impressionism
      Spotlight on Optical Art
      Spotlight on Animals in Art
      Spotlight on Surrealism
      Spotlight on Sculpture
      Spotlight on Women in the Arts
      Spotlight on The Golden Age of Illustration
      Spotlight on Vincent van Gogh
      Spotlight on Great Art

Top 30 Artists
Art News
Art Museums Worldwide
About Us