Islamic Art: Geometry

Islamic Art


Unlike Christian art, Islamic art is not restricted to religious work. However, it includes all the artistic traditions in the Muslim culture, where art pieces seek to portray the meaning and essence of things, rather than just its physical form. Islamic art is often vibrant, distinctive, and it transcends about time and space.


Introduction of Geometry in Islamic Art

Geometry and patterns are important in Islamic art. Back in the early days, geometric motifs were popular with Islamic artists all over the world for decorating surfaces, walls, floors, textiles and even book covers. As Islam spread from nation to nation, Islamic artists combined their love for geometry and created a new distinctive Islamic art that expresses the logic and order of the Islamic vision of the universe.


Geometric ornamentation may have reached its best in the Islamic world, but the sources for both the shapes and patterns already existed among the Greeks, Romans, and the Sasanians in Iran. Islamic artists took key elements from the classical tradition then elaborated them to form a new decoration that stressed the importance of unity and order.


Instead of decorating buildings and other surfaces with human figures, Islamic artists developed complex geometric decorative designs and intricate patterns to adorn palaces, mosques and other public places.


Repeating patterns can also represent the unchanging laws of God. Muslims are expected to maintain certain rules that were originally set forth by the Prophet Muhammad. In this way, the rules of construction of geometric patterns provide a visual analogy to religious rules of behavior.



Geometry and Patterns

Compasses and rulers were the basic instruments for constructing geometric designs. The circle is the foundation for Islamic patterns and it plays an important role in calligraphy, which the Arabs defined as “the geometry of the line”, and it structures all the complex Islamic patterns using geometric shapes.


These are three basic characteristics in Islamic geometry.

  1. Islamic patterns are made up of a small number of repeated geometric elements, which are mainly the circle, square, and straight lines. These shapes are duplicated and interlaced into intricate combinations. Most patterns are based on grids that are composed of equilateral triangles, squares, and hexagons. This is also known as tessellation.
  2. They are two-dimensional. The designs often have a background and foreground. Patterns are placed upon patterns to flatten the space in order not to create depth. Some designs are created by fitting all the polygonal shapes together, leaving no gaps in between. The concept of space in Islamic art is very different from western art, where there is usually a linear perspective. Artists of the Islamic world were not interested in linear perspective. Others are usually vegetal patterns that are set against a contrasting background which creates interlaces of lines, weaving over and under in a way that emphasizes the foreground.
  3. Geometric ornamentation in Islamic art gives freedom and is not designed to fit within a frame.


Examples of Islamic geometry art works.

a) Molded tile panel, 13th–14th century; Ilkhanid period

Iran, Nishapur

Ceramic with turquoise and cobalt glaze; 41 1/2 x 24 in.

(105.4 x 61 cm)

Rogers Fund, 1937 (37.40.26,.27)

A pattern such as this required only two kinds of molds to make a beautiful and interesting design, one of the most popular of Islamic tessellations.


b) Tile panel in the star-cross pattern (detail), 13th–14th century;

Ilkhanid period

Iran, Kashan

Ceramic, composite body, luster painted overglaze; 16 3/4 x 42 in.

(42.5 x 106.7 cm)

The Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore,

1891 (91.1.106)

Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.110.19)

Gift of Rafael Gustavino, 1928 (28.89.4)

H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of H. O. Havemeyer, 1941


This is another of the popular tessellation patterns using eightpointed stars, many of which include a calligraphic border of Persian poetry.



c) Mihrab, 1354; post-Ilkhanid period

Iran, attributed to Isfahan

Mosaic of monochrome-glaze tiles on composite body set on

plaster; 11 ft. 3 in. x 7 ft. 6 in. (3.4 x 2.9 m)

Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939 (39.20)

The most important interior element in an Islamic religious building is the mihrab, a wall niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which the faithful must face during the daily prayers. This mihrab is from the Madrasa Imami, a religious school founded in Isfahan in 1354. It is made of glazed earthenware cut into small pieces and embedded in plaster. Three kinds of Islamic designs can be found here —vegetal, calligraphic, and geometric.


All 3 pictures and descriptions taken from:


Here is an example of a contemporary geometric art:



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