Islamic Art and Archaeology
The Islamic period began in the middle of the seventh century CE, and has spanned some 1,200 years. Islamic rule in the Land of Israel began with the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE. Objects from the Islamic period in the Israel Museum include finds from archaeological excavations in Israel as well as others that originated in Islamic lands.
The Early Islamic period, the time of the Umayyad dynasty (661–749 CE), represents the most important chapter in the history of the Islamic period in this region, when the Umayyads established their capital in Damascus, and the Land of Israel benefited directly from its proximity to the capital city. During this period, the Land of Israel became a center of architecture and art. In its earliest stages, the Islamic art of the country continued, to a large extent, the pre-Islamic eastern Sassanian and especially the classic Roman-Byzantine tradition. However, toward the end of the eighth century CE, a new and unique Islamic artistic style emerged, which reflected a combination of earlier traditions with new styles.
With the rise of the Abassid dynasty (750 CE) and the transfer of the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, the center of the Islamic world shifted eastward, and scarcely any evidence survives of the activities of the Islamic rulers in this part of the Islamic world in this period. Most of the items are day-to-day utensils; the most beautiful ones were found in hoards.
In contrast to the Islamic objects unearthed in archaeological excavations in Israel, the Museum’s general collection of Islamic objects is based mainly on donations or bequests. The collection is extremely varied and includes items from the eighth to the nineteenth century CE that originate in all parts of the Islamic world, especially Iran, India, Egypt, and Turkey. Despite the fact that they were produced in different lands and during different periods, they share a number of basic characteristics: Arabic calligraphy as a major ornamental device; arabesques (a continuous pattern of floral scrolls); geometric patterns made of lines, octagons, triangles and circles; and figurative motifs, which were forbidden in religious contexts, but common in secular art. Figurative motifs included animals and birds, as well as court scenes.
Senior Curator of Islamic Art and Archaeology