Typical of Islamic ornamentation from c.1000, the arabesque is a complex style of decoration characterised by repetitive geometric patterns, the interlacing of plant and animal forms, and abstract curvilinear motifs.

History of Arabesque

Although the actual Arabesque style was derived from Hellenic craftsmen in Asia Minor, the term arabesque was coined in the 15th or 16th century when Europeans became interested in the Islamic arts.

Regarded as both an art and a science, the arabesque is mathematically precise, aesthetically pleasing, and symbolic. That said it can be seen to comprise religious and secular art.

Rendered in nearly every media known to Muslim artisans, Arabesque ornamentation has been created with ceramic tiles, mirrors, brickwork, metalwork, stucco, stonework, mosaic and marble inlays.

The Arabesque style has gained much significance as an art style due to the fact that it has flexibly and regionally evolved while still retaining its original principles.

Arabesque Geometric Artwork

Arabesque geometric artwork was not used until the golden age of Islam in which ancient texts were translated from their original Greek and Latin into Arabic at the House of Wisdom.

When the works of Plato and Euclid became extremely popular, it was Euclid’s geometry as well as Pythagoras’ foundations of trigonometry that were expounded on by Al-Jawhari circa 860.

His commentary on Euclid’s Elements went on to become the starting point of the Arabesque art form.

As the Arabesque style was often employed to cover entire surfaces, it was applied to the decoration of illuminated manuscripts, walls, furniture, metalwork, pottery, stonework, majolica, and tapestry from the Renaissance to the 19th century.

Usually found decorating the walls of mosques, the geometric patterns and shapes that are chosen and the way they are formatted is based upon the Islamic view of the world.

According to the Muslim faith, this iconography comes together to create an endless pattern which symbolises the eternal nature of Allah.

Modes of Arabesque Art

Arabesque art encapsulates two modes which act as a reflection of unity arising from diversity.

The first mode recalls the values of Islam that govern the order of the world. These include the basic elements which come together to make objects structurally perfect and therefore beautiful, for example, angles and the static shapes they create.

As each repetitive geometric form has a built-in symbolism ascribed to it, the square, for example, with its fours equilateral sides, is symbolic of the key elements of nature: earth, air, fire and water.

Without any one of the four, the physical world, represented by a circle that inscribes the square, would collapse and cease to exist.

From the Islamic viewpoint, geometry is one of the streams that flows from the fountainhead of Islam. That said Islam and science were never seen as two separate subjects but key components of the faith.

The second mode of the Arabesque recalls the nature of life giving and is based upon the flowing nature of plant forms. As the Qur’an contains many verses which mention the exquisite gardens of Paradise, the depiction of scrolling vines, surreal flowers, and gracefully flowing leaves is a common feature in the arabesque.

Arabic Calligraphy

Many would argue there is also a third mode, the mode of Arabic calligraphy, which acts as a visible expression of the highest art of all; the art of the spoken word.

Complete passages from the Qur’an are commonly seen in Arabesque art.

Other Art Movements

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