VEGETATION
AND THE ARABESQUE
VEGETATION
AND THE ARABESQUE
image
Mihrab tile, late 13th century, Kashan, Iran. Fritware, cast in two parts and painted in blue and turquoise in, and in luster over, an opaque white glaze, 76 x 74 cm. 1/1968

Introduction | Figures | Writing | Geometry | Vegetation | Hybrids

Artisans in the Islamic lands also inherited a rich tradition of decoration with vines, stems, leaves, and flowers. Vegetal ornament was used regularly and consistently in all the arts throughout the region. The depiction of lush vegetation and verdant gardens was undoubtedly attractive to the inhabitants of this dry and often dusty part of the world, and these designs may also have recalled the Garden of Paradise promised to Muslims in the Koran. Sometimes artists depicted gardens realistically, but their most distinctive achievement was the transformation of naturalistic vegetal ornament into the arabesque, an abstracted form in which plants and leaves grow according to the laws of geometry rather than nature. In these large tiles from the hood of a fourteenth-century Persian mihrab (the niche in the Mecca-facing wall of a mosque), for example, the vines and leaves grow in choreographed symmetry from a central source.