Magic geometry; geometric patterns in Islamic art

posted on 24th of february, 2011

Islamic artists and designers have used geometric motifs to decorate almost every surface, from walls, ceilings to floors, pots, textiles and book covers.

As Islam spread from nation to nation, Islamic artists combined geometry with existing traditions, creating a new and distinctive Islamic art. This art expressed the logic and order inherent in the Islamic vision of the universe.

The development of this new distinctive art, in part may have been due to the discouragement of images in Islam on basis that it could lead to idolatry. For the Muslim, in recognising the reality of the fundamental formula of Islam: "There is no divinity other than God". He sees in figurative art, a fundamental error or illusion in projecting the nature of the absolute into the relative, by attributing to the relative an autonomy that does not belong to it.

Islamic artists became the greatest pattern makers of their time. They developed complex geometric decorative designs, as well as intricate patterns of vegetal ornament (such as the arabesque), with which to adorn palaces and mosques and other public places.

According to the Islam, Muslims are expected to observe certain rules as were originally set forth by the Prophet Muhammad characterized by the "Pillars of Faith". Developing infinitely repeating patterns can represent the unchanging laws of God. In this way the rules of construction of geometric patterns provide a visual analogy to religious rules of behavior.

Patterns and symbols
The circle and its centre are the point at which alll Islamic patterns begin and symbolizes one God, role of Mecca, the center of Islam, toward which all Moslems face in prayer. The circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without being and without end, the perfect expression of justice-equality in all directions in a finite domain.

From the circle comes three fundamental figures in Islamic art, the triangle, square and hexagon. The triangle by tradition is symbolic of human consciousness and the principle of harmony. The square, the symbol of physical experience and the physical world-or materiality-and the hexagon, of Heaven.
Another symbol prevalent in Islamic art is the star and has been the chosen motif for many Islamic decorations.

In Islamic iconography the star is a regular geometric shape that symbolizes equal radiation in all directions from a central point. All regular stars -- whether they have 6, 8, 10, 12, or 16 points -- are created by a division of a circle into equal parts. The center of the star is center of the circle from which it came, and its points touch the circumference of the circle. The rays of a star reach out in all directions, making the star a fitting symbol for the spread of Islam.

Even though the geometric patterns were generated from, such simple forms as the circle and the square, they were combined, duplicated, interlaced, and arranged in intricate combinations, becoming one of the most distinguishing features of Islamic art.

Comments (1)

Posted by Mariaam on March 01, 2011
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing Caroline!

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Photo credits: Cbomers.
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