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Unit Five: Courtly Splendor in the Islamic World

Prayer carpet

Prayer carpet with triple-arch design (detail). About 1575–90. Turkey, probably Istanbul, possibly Egypt, Cairo

In most regions of the Islamic world, the patronage of the ruler and the court was vital to the production of fine works of art and led to important artistic innovations. The sponsorship of artistic activity was viewed as a privilege of kingship. Royal workshops had unparalleled access to funds, fine materials, and the most talented artists. These workshops supported the production of sumptuous luxury objects and fostered collaboration among artists, which resulted in the transmission of motifs and styles from one medium to another. The chapters in this unit highlight the art of two courts in Islamic Spain, the Umayyads (756–1031) and the Nasrids (1232–1492), and the court art of three later Islamic empires—the Mughals of India (1526–1858), the Safavids of Iran (1501–1722), and the Ottomans of Turkey (1299–1923). These chapters examine the role of the royal workshop in the production of art and the creation of distinct dynastic visual languages.

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After reading this chapter, you will be able to identify how the court art of Islamic Spain reflects a convergence of cultures and understand the ways in which royal patronage of the arts reflected the visual identity and opulence of two dynasties in Islamic Spain.

Subject Areas: Visual Arts; World History

After reading this chapter, you will be able to identify the visual qualities and functions of objects produced under Ottoman patronage; and understand the role of the Ottoman court workshops in generating a unified dynastic visual language, seen across a range of media, that spread throughout the empire.

Subject Areas: English Language Arts; Visual Arts; World History

After reading this chapter, you will be able to identify some of the key themes and events presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings); make connections between figures and events in the story and the illustrated pages of the manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp; and understand the process and materials used to create a royal manuscript of this caliber.

Subject Areas: English Language Arts; Visual Arts; World History

After reading this chapter, you will be able to understand the role of luxury objects in the Mughal court of India, and recognize how the precise and highly naturalistic depictions of animals, plants, and people demonstrate the Mughals' extraordinary interest in the natural world and the keen observational skills of Mughal artists.

Subject Areas: Science; Visual Arts

Unit Five Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan: Court Arts of Islamic Spain

Students will be able to identify shared visual characteristics among several works of art from Islamic Spain; recognize ways designs are adapted across a range of media; and cite strengths and limitations of various materials.

Lesson Plan: Art and Empire—
The Ottoman Court

Students will be able to recognize ways a tughra functioned as a symbol of power and authority within a culturally diverse and geographically expansive empire.

Lesson Plan: The Making of a Persian Royal Manuscript

Students will be able to identify some of the key events and figures presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings); make connections between the text and the illustrated pages of the manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp; and create a historical record of their community.

Lesson Plan: The Mughal Court and the Art of Observation

Students will be able to recognize ways works of art reflect an intense interest in observation of the human and natural world among Mughal leaders; and understand ways works of art from the past and present communicate ideas about the natural world.

Textile fragment

The lesson plan related to Court Arts of Islamic Spain features a fourteenth-century silk textile fragment.

Tughra (official signature) of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (reigned 1520–66)

The lesson plan related to Art and Empire—The Ottoman Court features a sixteenth-century Tughra from Turkey.

The Feast of Sada: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

The lesson plan related to The Making of a Persian Royal Manuscript features a folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp.

Red-Headed Vulture and Long-Billed Vulture: Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

The lesson plan related to The Mughal Court and the Art of Observation features a folio from the Shah Jahan album.