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Ink, Silk, and Gold: The Great Empires

Aug

15

Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on display through September 3, 2017, features masterpieces of Islamic art spanning centuries, media, and Islamic tradition. The exhibition features more than 50 items and panels of text, giving the viewer an engrossing background on Islamic history. This is part of a series of blogs that will give you context to the items in the exhibition

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Islamic world was ruled by three great empires. Though these empires experienced times of conflict, they were continually engaged in mercantile and diplomatic interactions with one another.

The Safavid Empire

The Safavid dynasty ruled Iran and the surrounding regions from 1501 to 1726. Nearly all members of the Safavid dynasty were financial supporters of workshops featuring skilled artists. Silk textiles produced in the empire were exported to Europe, which led to conflict with the Ottoman Empire, who aimed to control the silk trade. Artists used silk to create carpets with elaborate patterns. The art of the book flourished in the region as more artists began producing single-page drawings and paintings in unique personal styles.

The Ottoman Empire

Although the Ottoman Empire was established at the end of the 13th century, it did not rise to the status of world power until its conquest of Constantinople in 1453, which marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. At its highest point the empire ruled a territory that reached from Budapest to Baghdad and from Tabriz to Tunis, and included the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Ottoman territory was located at the crossroads of trade between Asia and Europe.

The elite supported flourishing textile and ceramic industries, as well as architectural projects. Textiles were featured in Ottoman court culture as banners, wall hangings, floor coverings, and as clothing worn by rulers and courtiers. The town of Iznik, also known by its ancient name Nicaea, produced the ceramics that were abundant in elite circles. These ceramics first appeared as imitations of Chinese porcelains and then later bore distinctive Ottoman motifs and colors.

The Mughal Empire

Based in Kabul, a Mughal ruler conquered India in the early 16th century and his successors soon came to rule nearly all of the subcontinent via military tactics and inclusive policies of administration. The Mughal ruler followed the Sunni branch of Islam and oversaw a kingdom of mostly Hindus for two centuries, which resulted in the fusion of Hindu and Muslim cultures into one unique imperial culture. Extensive contact with Europeans also contributed to the rich culture of the Mughal Empire.

The Mughals were great patrons of the arts of the book, the copying of Persian as well as Hindu texts and creating a style of Persian, pre-Islamic Indian, and European painting illustrations. Important works of art from the Mughal Empire also include floral and figural carpets and textiles used to embellish palaces, and portraits of rulers and the elites of the empire.

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Ink, Silk, and Gold: The Early Centuries

Aug

08

Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on display through September 3, 2017, features masterpieces of Islamic art spanning centuries, media, and Islamic tradition. The exhibition features more than 50 items and panels of text, giving the viewer an engrossing background on Islamic history. This is part of a series of blogs that will give you context to the items in the exhibition. Ink, Silk, and Gold is named for the materials that make up the exhibition. Each material is significant within the religion.

Early Islamic art is best encapsulated from the 8th to 10th centuries. That span of time was rife with great political shifts and the gradual creation of an artistic tradition unique to Islamic communities. When the Muslim state conquered the culturally sophisticated regions of land that belonged to the Byzantine and Sasanian empires in the 7th century, it absorbed the culture in those regions as well,  helped shape and develop Islamic art.

The most distinctive art form of this period is the illuminated Qur’an manuscript. Though the Qur’an is essentially an artistic piece borne of oral communication, it assumed a material form during the lifetime of Muhammad. These transferred passages, or codices, make up the pages of the Qur’an and over time, the calligraphy on its sacred pages came to be used on everyday objects out of respect to the divine.

The Islamic world began to break off into separate kingdoms. Distinctive artistic traditions began to define Islamic art, even while common artistic elements persisted.

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Ink, Silk, and Gold: The Materials

Aug

01

Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on display through September 3, 2017, features masterpieces of Islamic art spanning centuries, media, and Islamic tradition. The exhibition features more than 50 items and panels of text, giving the viewer an engrossing background on Islamic history. This is part of a series of blogs that will give you context to the items in the exhibition. Ink, Silk, and Gold is named for the materials that make up the exhibition. Each material is significant within the religion.

Ink defines forms and articulates detail on nearly all Islamic art that takes place on paper. The Qur’an and the Hadith directly connect ink with Creation as Islamic tradition says that first thing God created was the pen. The Hadith refers to sayings attributed to Muhammad and the Qur’an is the collection of Islamic scriptures. In Islamic culture, ink is also associated with morality and intellect, and it is considered a sacred practice to copy scripture from the Qur’an in ink.

Silk weaving was an important Islamic art form as early as the 7th century, when Muslims conquered the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, which were silk-producing regions. They adopted some existing practices regarding silk and shaped new cultural uses, such as khil’at (Arabic for “robe of honor”). The gifting of a silk robe by an Islamic ruler to a visiting head of state or a subject was a way of establishing the balance of power between them.

Gold is universally-known as a desirable material that represents the status of the elite. Islamic art features gold that has been cast to make vessels and jewelry, woven into textiles, inlaid into bronze, and painted onto the pages of manuscripts. Beliefs about the properties and proper uses of gold were present in fashion, finance, the Qur’an, Hadith, and Islamic law. The Qur’an reads that gold will be a common sight for those who are found worthy on the Day of Judgment and will be “adorned with bracelets of gold” and will dine with “dishes and goblets of gold.” It was also believed that excessive use of gold could lead to arrogance and the Qur’an warns against hoarding the precious metal.

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Riyaaz Qawwali Brings South Asian Music Tradition to Northeast Florida

Jul

25

The people of Jacksonville will have a chance to experience the fusion of Islamic tradition and contemporary artistry that is Riyaaz Qawwali this summer. The concert is an extension of Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that will run until Sunday, September 3.

Riyaaz Qawwali is a talented musical group of South Asian musicians representing an eclectic collection of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. While the members of Riyaaz Qawwali live in the United States, they are originally from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

What is Qawwali? Qawwali is a Muslim musical tradition that dates back more than seven centuries and is still popular today in certain areas of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. A devotional style of music, Qawwali is largely associated with Sufism, an Islamic practice that focuses on personal enlightenment and the actualization of Truth.

Riyaaz Qawwali strives to bring the Qawwali style of music to new places and new audiences, and the unique musical style includes elements not found in other South Asian music. Riyaaz Qawwali takes the style one step further by fusing traditional Qawwali music with the work of well-known South Asian poets. The ensemble’s various religious and ethnic backgrounds send a message of unity and oneness while exposing younger generations across the world to their music.

The concert will be held August 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $30 for members, $40 for non-members, and registration is required to reserve a seat at the show! For further information or to register, please call 904.899.6038 or register online.

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Family Activity Series: Spain and Northwestern Africa

Jul

19

We have come a long way and made it to the regions of Spain and Northwestern Africa! You can find Islamic influences across the globe! The item we are given to examine is a page of the Qur’an featuring Maghrib script, a decorative calligraphy, named for the area of Northwestern Africa and Spain known as Maghrib.

The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, and it is said that God, through the angel Gabriel, verbally delivered the book’s contents to Muhammad. For this activity, we will learn to write the words Assalamu alaykum or, “Peace be with you,” in Arabic script! It’s considered a devotional act to copy text from the Qur’an. An outline of the phrase is given below!

Trace the outline and then practice writing the phrase! How did you do? Now that you know how to write an Arabic phrase in Maghrib, it’s time to leave Northwestern Africa and head to Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

 

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Family Activity Series: Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Jul

19

We have come a long way in our quest to learn about Islamic traditions and treasures! In fact, we have come so far that we are in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, the last stop on our journey.

A woman traditionally wore a munisak when she got married and then to rituals and ceremonies that occurred after the wedding. The coats feature bold colors and patterns. The munisak on the left is beautiful and intricate. Now, use the outline on the right and create your own ceremonial coat!

                   

What colors and patterns did you use and why? Where would you wear you coat?

Now that you’ve finished your munisak, it’s time to head back to the Museum because we have successfully completed our quest! I hope you have learned something about the ancient Islamic treasures and why they’re significant. We hope you have enjoyed the beauty and history that Ink, Silk, and Gold had to offer.

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