Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Europe and the Islamic World, 1600–1800

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At the beginning of this period, the European presence in the Islamic world was largely based on trade. Dutch, French, English, and Portuguese merchants first arrived in the late fifteenth century, attracted by the wealth that could be acquired in exporting luxury items to the European market, and encouraged by the Mughal and Safavid governments, which desired trade partners to stimulate the economy. Diplomatic ties later officially cemented these partnerships. The first British representatives arrived in Persia in 1622 and the French in 1638. The Portuguese landed in India in 1498 and the French soon afterward, but the British, under the aegis of the East India Company, would prove to be the chief force in the subcontinent. Sir Thomas Roe brokered the first trade treaty in 1615. The Ottoman empire was initially more isolated as it had a strong domestic trade network, but in the eighteenth century it began to receive European merchants and consuls as well as to send out its own. One mission from Turkey visited the court of Louis XV of France in the 1720s.


As the Europeans were introduced to many new kinds of textiles, carpets, spices, and clothing, so too was the Islamic world enriched.

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As the Europeans were introduced to many new kinds of textiles, carpets, spices, and clothing, so too was the Islamic world enriched. European art circulating among court artists transformed painting under both the Mughals and the Safavids. By carefully copying the engravings in sixteenth-century illustrated Bibles presented by Jesuit missionaries, Indian artists learned techniques of modeling and spatial recession that they then applied to their own works. Illustrations in books of herbals affected the way flowers and plants were depicted. In Persia, oil paintings had a greater effect, the lifesize portraits of Louis XIV sent to Isfahan eventually metamorphosing into Zand and Qajar state portraits. Although manuscripts such as the Bellini Album (67.266.7.8r) attest that European drawings were known in Turkey, it was exposure to the French Baroque that captured the local imagination. Soon after the return of travelers to Versailles, flamboyant architectural ornament began to appear on both royal residential buildings and mosques.


By the end of the period, European colonial interests had upset this equitable cultural exchange. The British East India Company established an army to protect its commercial interests in India; its 1757 defeat of the nawab of Bengal led to further armed conflicts and finally to the 1858 declaration of British sovereignty over the country. The British also became involved in interdynastic conflicts in the Arabian Peninsula and established a military post in Muscat, Oman. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, and though he was forced to withdraw from the area in 1801, the French would later occupy parts of North Africa. The Dutch became involved in lands further east, especially in the Indonesian archipelago, where islands controlled by different Muslim rulers were united as one colony.

Marika Sardar
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University