Islamic Dynasties
Early 7th - 10th C
Medieval 10th - 13th C
Later Medieval 13th - 16th C
The Age of the Empires 16th - 19th C
European Influence Later 19th C
Early 7th - 10th C

Early Islam: 7th – 10th C

Less than a century after the death of Mohammed in 632, a unified Islamic empire stretched across the Middle East and North Africa, and into Spain and Central Asia. While the spread was rapid, local cultures and traditions were generally respected and assimilated, and their influence can be seen in the arts.

Local craftsmen introduced their older traditions – particularly geometric patterning – into designs for objects, textiles, architecture and architectural decoration. Royal patronage fostered the production of mosaics, wall paintings, ceramics and glass objects. These artistic influences of the preceding Persian Sassanid and Byzantine Empires are represented in the exhibition by a truly unique display of colourful ceramics, lustre painted glass and rarely preserved finely woven textiles.

Planispheric astrolab designed by the instrument-maker Muhammad Mahdi al-YazdiIran, dated 060 AH (1650–51 AD)
Early 7th - 10th C

Medieval: 10th – 13th C

The Medieval Islamic period is marked by the dominance of several new dynasties, such as the Seljuks of Anatolia and the Fatimids of Egypt, who expanded their control westwards to the Mediterranean. The Seljuks were the Turkic predecessors of the Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties who later defended Islam against the Crusaders. As a result of this contact Crusaders took many objects of art back to Europe, and these influenced the development of European medieval art.

This period is considered to be a time of exceptional artistic production involving new technical innovations, such as lustre painting to glazed ceramics, the introduction of new materials such as paper, and new techniques in manuscript decoration, seen in the magnificent display of illuminated Qur’ans in the exhibition.

Single-volume Qur’an copied by the princess Zinat al-Nisa’, India, in or before 1080 AH (1669–70 AD)
Early 7th - 10th C

Later Medieval: 13th – 16th C

In 1258 the Mongol forces that already ruled much of Asia took Bagdad. This move provided a vital link between Europe and China and had an enormous impact on the Islamic world. Mongol rulers proved strong patrons of the arts and the new trade routes saw the influence of the cultures of Central Asia and the Far East, such as China. Precious metals such as gold and silver were used in decoration and an manuscript production flourished. Objects of particular interest in the exhibition are a saddle with brilliant delicate filigree gold trappings, dating from the 13th/14th century, and Rashid al-Din’s Jami’ al-Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), the first illustrated history of the world seen through the eyes of the Mongol conquerors.

Horse trappings and saddle fittings Central Asia or western frontiers of China, c1200 AD
Early 7th - 10th C

The Age of the Empires: 16th – 19th C

The Islamic world was dominated by three great dynasties during this period. The Ottoman Empire controlled the Arab lands and much of Eastern Europe. The Safavid Empire prevailed in parts of Iran, the Caucasus, central Asia and Afganistan. In northern India, the Mughal Empire came to dominate the subcontinent and was responsible for great artistic achievements, including the Taj Mahal.

These multi-ethnic empires controlled vast resources and royal palaces were the hub of artistic production where the arts of the book took precedence. In Mughal India, schools of miniature painting developed, and portrait painting was particularly popular in Qajar Iran (18th-19th century). Exhibition highlights are the Shahnamah (the Book of Kings), colourful enamelled objects from Mughal India, intricate jewelled pieces studded with precious stones, and finely woven carpets and textiles.

Pan-box (pandan) Mughal India, early 18th century AD
Early 7th - 10th C

European Influence: Later 19th C

Increasing interaction with the West led to a more prevalent European influence on Islamic art and the development of book printing. Precious objects such as enamelled pocket watches with portraits of rulers and delicately painted lacquer pen boxes are a highlight in this part of the exhibition.

Pen box signed Rahim Dakkani, India or Iran, c1700 AD
Pocket watch with enamelled case Switzerland, 19th century AD
  pocket watch
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