BOOK REVIEW: The art and architecture of Islam

Daily News Egypt
3 Min Read

Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius have collaborated with an impressive number of authors to produce a colorful new book that explores the artistic and scientific influence of Islam throughout a large part of the world.

Apart from Markus Hattstein, 19 other authors contributed to the making of “Islam: Art and Architecture. Their credentials can be found on page 596 and they bristle with doctorates, professorships and higher honors.

Hattstein opens with an overview of world religion and cultural power, paving the way for an impressive number of articles by the authors on the history, art and decoration of the Islamic world over the ages, including sections on metal work and calligraphy.

The journey begins with Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, the Maghreb from Morocco to Tunisia, Spain and then Sicily. We are then transported to the early empires of east and central Asia and Asia Minor, the Islamic Mongols and the Ottoman Empire.

There is an overwhelming amount of learning represented in this book, the result of a tremendous body of collective research and dissertation on part of the authors.

Thankfully, this information is accompanied by a wealth of color reproductions; of delicate pottery for instance, using glazes not unlike those of today, and of course the amazing astralobe invented in 1029 as an example of early engineering.

Decorative metal work was of a very high standard as early as the 7th century, with tableware being a status symbol of prosperity. Exquisite decoration and the beautiful forms of doorknockers, flasks, lamps etc., show the Fatimid influence in Sicily.

Some of these images are full-page, and even a few double-page plates showing paintings, photographs, maps and diagrams. There are wonderful landscapes, ancient ruins, old manuscripts and beautifully colored illustrations such as that by Al Wasiti in 1237 depicting students in a mosque school.

The architectural plans which accompany the photographs of some of the great and ancient buildings are very informative, providing the reader with a clearer idea of the interiors and their usage. The interiors themselves are stunningly beautiful and pale in comparison to today’s architecture.

Unfortunately, with so much information packed into one book, the printing has perforce to be small. The text is miniature, but the captions for the illustrations are even smaller. Some people may even need a magnifying glass.

But don’t be put off by such considerations. I found a magnifying glass actually enhanced many of the photos, bringing out textures and distant figures and all sorts of interesting details I might otherwise have missed.Published by AUC Press, price LE 250.

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