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.