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Musharaka [ Cooperation ]  Calligraphy by Khaled Al-Saai

Art and Architecture

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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


This section contains full-text readings from a variety of sources. Many of these texts have never been offered online before. They represent a range of scholarly views and interests, and are intended to offer a more in-depth view of selected topics covered in this module. Please be aware that these texts may not be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the original copyright holder, as indicated at the head of each reading.

The readings listed in grey are currently unavailable, as we work toward renewing copyright permission from the publishers.

  • Islamic Art in Context: The Historical Background
    Robert Irwin

    In this chapter, Robert Irwin investigates the world into which Islam emerged, with particular attention to the Byzantine and Sassanian empires. Through an examination of the existing cultures, the adoption and adaptation of various artistic motifs and literary forms can be understood.

  • The Birth of Islamic Art: the Umayyads
    Robert Hillenbrand

    Robert Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic Art at the University of Edinburgh, provides a thorough discussion of the artistic production of the first Islamic dynasty, the Umayyads, within both a historical and a geographical context.

  • Central Islamic Lands
    Richard Ettinghausen et al.

    Taken from the first text in the preeminent two-volume Pelican History of Art series on Islamic art and architecture, this reading provides a thorough overview of the material culture of several regional centers including Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Anatolia during the dynamic medieval period.

  • Syria and Egypt: Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
    David Talbot Rice

    In this chapter, which begins with a brief discussion of the relative instability of the region during the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, David Talbot Rice focuses on the arts and architecutre that flourished under the patronage of the Mamluks.

  • Architecture and the Arts in Egypt and North Africa
    Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

    Part of the second volume of the Pelican History of Art Islamic art and architecture series, this chapter by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom (husband and wife who share a Chair in Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College) examines artistic and architectural production in Egypt and North Africa in the period following the Ottoman conquests of the sixteenth century. Local responses to the domination of the Ottomans, as well as an increased European presence, are explored. A large section of the reading is dedicated to the unique position of Morocco, which never fell to the Ottomans.

  • What is Islamic Architecture?
    Ernst J. Grube

    An introductory essay on the basic forms, functions, and principles of Islamic architecture. In addition, Grube enters into the debate regarding an inherent “Islamicness” within the architectural styles.

  • Community: Society, Institutions, and Patronage
    John Renard

    Using both primary documents (translated into English) and the built environment as evidence, this section from Renard’s anthology explores community and the concept of umma. Of particular interest is the section, “Patronage and the Arts: Women as Patrons of Architecture.” Through a sampling of architectural commissions from various regions and centuries, the impact of women patrons on material culture is examined.

  • The Proportions of the Line
    Abdelkebir Khatibi, Mohammed Sijelmassi

    Given the primacy of the word in Islamic culture and the debates that have long surrounded the use of figural representation, which is to be avoided in objects of religious significance from buildings to book, the importance of calligraphy in Islamic art cannot be overstated. Calligraphic designs are found on all types of objects ranging from the sacred to the mundane, from architecture to pen boxes. Here Abdelkebir Khatibi and Mohammed Sijelmassi present some of the rules that guide this beautiful and complex art form. Many examples of Arabic calligraphy can be found in the gallery of this unit, as well as the unit on literature. A video of a contemporary calligrapher at work can be seen here.

  • Contemporary Architecture in the Arab States: Iraq
    Udo Kultermann

    In this essay Udo Kultermann discusses architecture projects in modern-day Iraq.

  • Arab Architectural Heritage: Between Mirrors and Idols. Looking within and beyond the tradition-modernity debate
    Jad Thabet

    Beginning with the issue of reconstruction following the Lebanese Civil War, Jad Thabet discusses regional responses to the polemics of heritage versus modernity in contemporary building programs — a debate that impacts architectural projects throughout the modern Arab World.

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