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Lesson Plan: Geometric Design in Islamic Art

A sandstone window screen, pierced and carved in an intricate geometric pattern

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Jali (screen)
Second half of the 16th century
Red sandstone; pierced, carved
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1993 (1993.67.2)

Collection Area: Islamic Art
Subject Areas: Mathematics, Visual Arts
Grades: Middle School, High School
Topic/Theme: Geometric Constructions


Students will be able to:
  • use a compass and straightedge to construct regular polygons; and
  • recognize ways works of art from the Islamic world utilize geometric forms and relationships.

National Learning Standards

Mathematics, Geometry
In grades 6–8 all students should recognize and apply geometric ideas and relationships in areas outside the mathematics classroom such as art, science, and everyday life.
In grades 9–12 all students should draw and construct representations of two- and three-dimensional geometric objects using a variety of tools.
In grades 9–12 all students should use geometric ideas to solve problems in, and gain insights into, other disciplines and other areas of interest such as art and architecture.

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

Common Core State Standards

Mathematics, Geometry
CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-CO.C.12 Make formal geometric constructions with a variety of tools and methods. 
CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-CO.C.13 Construct an equilateral triangle, a square, and a regular hexagon inscribed in a circle.

Questions for Viewing

  • What stands out as you take your first look at this object?
  • The weathering on one side suggests that this screen likely formed part of a series of windows set in an outside wall. What shapes and patterns might the light and shadows have made as the sun shone through the screen?
  • Look closely at the various shapes that make up the design. How do they relate to one another and the outer frame
  • Imagine creating a work like this. What might you do first? Last? Why?


Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Pencil, paper, straightedge, and compass for each student (alternatively, you can use the computer program "The Geometer's Sketchpad")
Subject Area: Geometry, Visual Arts
Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

While geometric ornamentation may have reached a pinnacle in the Islamic world, the sources for the shapes and intricate patterns employed in Islamic art already existed in late antiquity among the Greeks, Romans, and Sasanians in Iran. Islamic artists appropriated key elements from the classical tradition and then elaborated on them to create new forms of decoration. The compass and the straightedge—tools used to generate lines and circles, the foundations for all geometric forms—allowed artists to explore countless patterns and motifs.
The featured work of art includes regular polygons (two-dimensional shapes in which all of the sides are the same length and all of the angles are equal) such as the octagon and pentagon, as well as elaborate polygons such as the five-pointed and eight-pointed star. Investigate ways you can use your compass and straightedge to create each of these polygons, and others. Share your working methods with a peer. Compare and contrast your findings with the animated drawing All the Possible Polygons! or the demonstration in Geometric Construction (see Resources, below).


Aldoaldoz. All the Possible Polygons! Animated drawing. February 14, 2010.

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Department of Islamic Art. "The Art of the Mughals before 1600." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

———. "Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

———. "The Nature of Islamic Art." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

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

Weisstein, Eric W. Geometric Construction. Interactive demonstration. MathWorld—A Wolfram Web Resource. Wolfram Research, Inc., 1999–2012.

Spaces/Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Star- and hexagonal-tile panel
Late 13th–14th century
Iran, Nishapur
Stonepaste; polychrome tiles glazed in turquoise and blue and molded under transparent glaze; 41 3/4 x 24 1/4 x 2 in. (106 x 61.6 x 5.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1937 (37.40.26)

Jali (screen)
Early 17th century
Marble: 48 7/16 x 26 1/2 x 2 3/4 in. (123 x 67.3 x 7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1984 (1984.193)

The Astor Chinese Garden Court (Chinese courtyard in the style of the Ming dynasty)
Assembled onsite at the Museum by Chinese craftsmen in 1981
Ceramic tiles; nan wood columns; granite from Suzhou; Taihu rocks
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of the Vincent Astor Foundation

Tile assemblage
First half of the 13th century
Seljuq, Anatolia
Composite body, overglaze-painted; max. diam. 9 3/16 in. (23.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack A. Josephson, 1976 (1976.245)

16th century
Wood; carved, painted, and gilded; side 1: 99 in. (251.5 cm), side 2: 168 in. (426.7 cm), side 3: 192 in. (487.7 cm), side 4: 146 in. (370.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of the Hearst Foundation, 1956 (

Author: Adapted from a lesson by classroom teacher Michael Wilkinson
Date: 2012

Textile fragment

After reading Unit Three, you will understand the role of geometric design in the art of the Islamic world and recognize ways in which the featured works of art exhibit repetition, symmetry, two-dimensionality, and an illusion of infinity.