Margaret S. Graves
The label “Islamic art” has at times served to conflate and confuse religious and non-religious impulses within popular understandings of the art of the lands that are now or have historically been majority Muslim. A selection of the manifold visual expressions that relate directly to the practices of faith and religious identity in Islam are here explored, using premodern examples to explore three different themes. The first of these presents the structural form and decoration of some of the earliest mosques and other major religious structures of the Islamic world. The second section considers the role of ornament, including calligraphic practices, in the elaboration and diversification of a religious visual identity, while the third examines the most widely misunderstood aspect of Islamic art—the purported universal aniconism of Muslim cultures—through the small extant corpus of book paintings of religious figures, particularly the Prophet Muhammad.