Islamic Art in the Abbasid Era
29 SEP 2017
The Abbasid era in Islamic history spanned from 750 to 1258. This period is noteworthy for Islamic rule from Syria to Iraq and the founding of the capital city of Baghdad in 762. A second major city, Samarra, also briefly became the capital city during the years 836-883. During the Abbasid era, Baghdad and Samarra were the cultural hubs of the Islamic world, and artwork and architecture produced during this golden age is distinctive in its style and influences.
1 Stylistic Tendencies
Abbasid art is characterized by its arabesque designs. The designs were geometric and repetitive, featuring swirls, lines, and shapes. The style originated in wall carvings in mosques, houses and palaces. As the arabesque design flourished, it spread to other sources of artwork, such as wood, metal and pottery, and was no longer limited to wall carvings, but rather was created with paint, ink, and wood carvings.
2 Use of Color
Color became an important factor in Abbasid pottery produced in Samarra. Pottery was glazed in white and then painted over with luster, making the pottery gold and silver in color, which resembled precious metals. Because of its sheen, lusterware looked expensive and quickly became popular and sought after.
Abbasid art influenced the Umayyad rulers in Spain, who adopted arabesque designs in their architecture. Byzantine envoys traveling to Baghdad returned to Constantinople with reports of beautiful mosques, and the Byzantines thus emulated Abbasid artistic styles in their palaces. Small-scale decorative arts were influential too, most likely because of their portability; lusterware ceramics and glassware were traded and thus influenced artistic practices as far as Egypt, Iran, and Spain. It is postulated that the ceramic transported to Spain influenced ceramic production in the Western world.
Political unrest caused a decline in art production, as motivations had to be focused elsewhere. A brief revival of Abbasid art emerged between 1180 and 1233, but it ultimately waned again because of political strife. When the Abbasid era ended, the golden age of art production was finished.