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Lesson Plan: Islam and Religious Art

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Muhammad's Call to Prophecy and the First Revelation: Folio from a manuscript of the Majma' al-Tawarikh (Compendium of Histories)
About 1425
Present-day Afghanistan, Herat
Opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper; page: 16 7/8 x 13 1/4 in. (42.8 x 33.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Cora Timken Burnett Collection of Persian Miniatures and Other Persian Art Objects, Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956 (57.51.37.3)

Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts, World History
Grades: High School
Topic/Theme: Art and Belief

Goals

Students will be able to:
  • identify important figures and events in early Islamic history;
  • recognize ways works of art reflect and support religious beliefs and practices; and 
  • use visual evidence to support inferences.

National Learning Standards

English Language Arts
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.10 Applying Non-English Perspectives

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

World History
NSS-WH.5-12.5 Era 5: Intensified Hemispheric Interactions, 1000–1500 c.e.


Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4  Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.


Questions for Viewing

  • Look closely at the clothing, pose, facial expression, and attributes of each figure in image 1. What might they suggest about each figure? (Note: Attitudes toward figural arts in the Islamic world varied according to time and place, ranging from totally aniconic—no images of people or animals—to entirely accepting of figural imagery in secular settings. The Qur'an does not prohibit the depiction of figures, but the Sayings of the Prophet [hadith] discusses the subject several times. The objections expressed there largely focus on the exclusive role of God as creator.)
  • What appears to be happening? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • According to Muslim belief the Prophet Muhammad (seated) received his first revelation when the Archangel Gabriel (left) appeared and instructed him to recite God's message. What do you think this artist hoped to convey about the event?
  • The text surrounding the image describes this crucial episode in the history of Islam—the first revelation and Muhammad's acceptance of his role as God's messenger. Listen to an audio recording of the section of the Qur'an corresponding to the first revelation. What do you notice about the sound of the words? How does this support or challenge your initial impressions of the scene?
  • Read an excerpt from the revelation below (translated from Arabic). What do these words mean to you?

Recite: In the Name of thy Lord who created,
created Man of a blood-clot.
Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous,
who taught by the Pen,
taught Man what he knew not.

(Qur'an, 96:1–5)


Activity

Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Pencil and paper, computer with Internet access and speakers, projected images or printouts of image 1 and figs. 8, 9
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Duration: Approximately 60 minutes

Compare and contrast the ways in which works of art reflecting Christian and Muslim beliefs (figs. 8, 9; image 1) present a pivotal spiritual moment. Collect information about the figures (pose, facial expression, clothing and accessories), setting, and artistic choices (color, composition, and selection and application of materials) in each work. Identify similarities and differences between the works using the data you collected as an aid. Discuss how the various representations of these important moments support the religious beliefs and practices of each faith.

Fig. 8. Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705). The Annunciation, 1672. Oil on canvas; 34 x 31 1/2 in. (86.4 x 80 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (1973.311.2)

Fig. 9. Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, about 1485–1540/41). The Annunciation, about 1525. Oil on wood; 34 x 31 1/2 in. (86.4 x 80 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.60)


Resources

Ekhtiar, Maryam D., and Claire Moore, eds. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Sorabella, Jean. "The Birth and Infancy of Christ in Italian Painting." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

"Surah al 'Alaq." Audio Islam. January 31, 2009.

Yalman, Suzan. Based on original work by Linda Komaroff. "The Birth of Islam." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.


Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705)
The Annunciation
1672
Oil on canvas; 34 x 31 1/2 in. (86.4 x 80 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (1973.311.2)

Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, about 1485–1540/41)
The Annunciation
About 1525
Oil on wood; 34 x 31 1/2 in. (86.4 x 80 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.60)

The Night Flight of Muhammad on His Steed Buraq (Mi'raj): Folio from a Bustan (Orchard) of Sa'di
About 1525–35
Calligrapher: Sultan Muhammad Nur (about 1472–about 1536)
Penned in present-day Afghanistan, probably Herat
Illustrated in present-day Uzbekistan, probably Bukhara, 1530–35
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; painting: 7 1/2 x 5 in. (19 x 12.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 1974 (1974.294.2)

Folio from a Qur'an manuscript
13th–14th century
Spain
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment; 211/16 x 22 in. (53.5 x 55.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1942 (42.63)


Author: Adapted from a lesson by classroom teacher Jody Madell
Date: 2012

Folio from a Qur'an manuscript

After reading Unit One, you will be able to identify key tenets of Islam and important figures and events in early Islamic history, and recognize ways works of art reflect and support religious beliefs and practice.