Ibn Sina Foundation

"Unity of beauty": the origins and mission of Islamic art

2020 Oct 09

The authors of the book "Unity of beauty" are Iranian scientists and art historians, the compiler and editor is a recently deceased art historian at the Institute of Oriental cultures of RSUH Nazarli Mais Jangir oglu. The reader of the book can make a virtual trip to Muslim countries and enjoy the variety of seemingly humdrum Islamic art presented in various genres: pictural art, architecture, folk craft, literature. The reader does not just learn the origins and forms of Islamic art, he also discovers profound topics as the transcendent philosophy of Mullah Sadra and Sufi elements in Islamic art. The book is a full-fledged source of knowledge about Sufi art in its diversity.

The articles describe not just the visual component of the masterpieces of Islamic art, but also its sacred component, philosophical origins and religious content. The authors emphasize a peculiar form of Islamic art – its diversity within unity, or unity that includes multiplicity – TAWHID, meaning monotheism or the unity of God. Thus, the reader gets the idea that theological component runs through Islamic art. The authors set examples of divinity concept in art, referring to folk crafts, book illustration or architectural decoration of mosque. Several chapters of the book are devoted to philosophy matters. The authors also pay attention to the crucial role of the Greek philosophy, in the Muslim art discourse.

Nowadays, Sufism owes its recognition to poetry, music and dance, which are much closer to our mass culture than prayer and metaphysics. Today, Sufi practice in the form of poetry, music and dance is assessed in terms of contemporary Western aesthetic norms. Sufi art performs two functions in the system of religious worship. Firstly, a specifically religious, cult function, since it accompanies the ceremony, arouses religious images, ideas, experiences, renews and reinforces religious beliefs. Secondly, it has an aesthetic function, because it is a product of artistic creativity, and evokes aesthetic emotions in those who perceive it, these emotions can merge into the general stream of religious experiences, activating and deepening them.

The interested reader certainly should be interested in the debate raised at the chapter "Problems of the Islamic Art Understanding" between the Jordanian artist and art critic Vijdan Ali and Richard Ettinghausen, where the latter argues about the borrowing of the artistic and architectural traditions of Muslims from the Hellenistic, Byzantine and Sasanian artistic traditions. In front of the reader's eyes, such a myth is debunked with the substantiated arguments of Vijdan Ali. The section "the problem of understanding Islamic art" is one of the most deeply worked out sections of this book.

The chapter on figural painting, illustrated with a splendid selection of paintings provided by the Mardjani Foundation deserves a special attention of a reader. The authors take a virtual tour of specific for Islamic art two-dimensional paintings, such as arabesque, calligraphy and miniature, representing the classical Iranian art. A comparative analysis of Islamic painting with Christian painting is informative and educative for a reader who is only a beginner in the science of Islamic art`s history.

The book certainly motivates the reader to dive deeper into the fascinating world of Islamic art. The book is an excellent collection of articles that lift the veil of secrets of mystical and mesmerizing Sufi art, a guide to the world of deeply philosophical and religious art of Islam. At the same time, the book captures the reader, drawing him into the enchanting world of Islamic art.

Elizaveta Vereina

Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, Mosсow, 2020

Last modified on 2020 Oct 12