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TitleBeauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture
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beauty and islam

Page 76

the comares hall


So each type of star pattern is conceived as a series that indeed con-
ceals the power of being indefinitely extensible. Having no specific link
with the sacred numerology in the Qur’an, the conclusion is that no
observable parameter permits one to read in the ceiling’s geometry
purposive symbolic or representational meanings related to it.

In other respects, to restrain the starry vocabulary to seven groups of
patterns, would imply necessarily that the aesthetic space of the dome is
objectively—i.e. as it appears to the sight—an achieved space, like the
geometrical image of the seven heavens depicted in the sura al-Mïlk.
On the contrary, the general organisation of the ceiling shows the oppo-
site aesthetic vocation. It immediately produces the optical effect of
boundless space, given that not all the geometrical patterns convey the
same idea of spatiality and induce the same visualisation of it. Wittgen-
stein, again, notices that:

Certain drawings are always seen as flat figures, and others sometimes, or
always, three-dimensionally. Here one would now like to say: the visual
impression of what is seen three-dimensionally is three-dimensional; with
the schematic cube, for instance, it is a cube (for the description of the
impression is the description of a cube).

And then, it seems queer that with some drawings our impression should
be a flat thing, and with some a three-dimensional thing. One asks one-
self. Where is this going to end?21

The character of limitlessness of the roof area is due to three of its
perceptual qualities which derive from and deliberately play with the
intrinsic property of infinitisation of geometry as a material ontology.22

The first quality concerns the algebraic law of the series cited above,
according to which different starry features expand around the central
cupola, in an homogeneous and virtually endless concentric distribu-
tion. The second quality resides in the organising principle of alternation
of these features that, like the serial principle of which it is the corollary,
equally possesses the specific ability of endlessly expanding. And lastly,
the third quality lies in the highly determining treatment of the ceiling
edges, a problem that needs, once again, a short theoretical explanation.

As a general rule, any type of aesthetic morphology is defined by the

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beauty and islam


nature and content of its matter and the mode of spreading of this mat-
ter within space, namely the position of its limits, its horizon. Thus, the
affirmation or, on the contrary, the negation of the edges of this mor-
phology constitutes a determining element for its ontological status,
relative to the aesthetic dialectics between finitude and infinitude in-
volved in the phenomenology of created visual spaces, above all in the
phenomenology of pure geometrical space. What Danto explains about
paintings is equally valid for any visual form:

The edges of pictures have always played an important role in painting,
and it is certainly exact to say that they are those which generate the com-
position that fills the space they delimit, because it is in relation with the
edges that the focal points and the points of view are compositionally

Returning to the case of the Comares dome, by virtue of aesthetic
relevance of the limits, the half-stars at the margins of the supporting
square strengthen the virtual continuity/infinity of the design beyond
it, in an endless expansion which confers on the artefact the aesthetic
character of a space in dilation, of an open field. Such a property makes
the ceiling morphology oppose the enclosed shape of the Qur’anic heav-
enly bodies, due to their strict numerical limitation. The area where the
walls and roof meet, namely between both edges of the two parts form-
ing the hall structure, draws a sharp line outlined by an impressive
muqarnas cornice. No transitional elements mediate the meeting between
the squared and circular morphologies; an observable fact meaning that
aesthetically they do not meet each other, but are outdistanced occur-
rences. The concrete result of this disposition is a radical change that
operates between two absolute distinct and parallel spaces: one con-
densed and circumscribed by four walls, firmly limited in their upper
part by the cornice; the other spreading infinitely beyond, like a frag-
ment of sky seen from an open air patio.

In concise terms, the dome configuration offers an exact example of
what Michael Fried eloquently called ‘a deductive structure’, speaking
about the works of Frank Stella, the American abstract artist, especially
the paintings that present concentric stripes. (Plate viii) They are

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qa˚ída låmiyyå (Ibn al-Kha†íb) 98
Queen of Sheba (Bilqís) xii, 26, 27,

29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 38, 40
Qur’an xiii, 8, 43, 52, 54, 55, 56,

57, 58, 62, 80, 100, 104; al-Falaq
(Qur’an 113): sura of Daybreak
49; al-Naml (Qur’an 27): sura of
the Ant 3, 26–41; al-Nïr (Qur’an
24): sura of the Light 35; al-Mulk
(Qur’an 67); sura of the
Kingdom 46, 50–1, 57; sura of
the City of Sabå (Qur’an 34) 20,

Raqqa 32
Raså’il Ikhwån al-Íafå’ 75
Raspail, Thierry 106
Rémi Auxerre 19
Renaissance 24
Rhetorics (Aristotle) 9, 17
Risåla fí mudåwåt al-nufïs (Ibn

Óazm) 8
Roman art 97
Rothko, Mark xii, 3, 78
Ruscha, Edward 106, 107
Russell, Bertrand 62
Russian Suprematism 71

Saadian (dynasty, kingdom) 31
Sabra, A.I. xi
Safavid (dynasty, kingdom) 70, 136
Saljuq (dynasty, kingdom) 73
Samanid (dynasty, kingdom) 99,

100, 104, 105
Samarkand 99
Sanjar, Sultan 73
Scholastics, Scholasticism 5, 7, 13,

14, 19, 23, 136
School of Chartres 23
scientific chromatism 120n
Scot Erigène, John 19
The Sense and the Felt (Ibn Rushd) 63
Serres, Michel 3, 69
Seurat, Georges 120n
Seville 7
Signac, Paul 120n
Socrates, Socratic 56
Solomon 26, 27, 28, 29–33, 36, 37,

Soto, Jesus-Rafael 120n
Spain 70
Stella, Frank 59
Suhrawardí 13
Syria 28, 32

al-®abarí, Abï Ja‘far Mu˙ammad b.
Jarír 29

Tafsír må ba‘da’l-†abí’a (Ibn Rushd)

Taifa kingdoms 6
Talkhís Kitåb al-nafs (Ibn Rushd) 16
Ta’ríkh al-rusul wa’l-mulïk (al-®abarí)

®awq al-hamåma (Ibn Óazm) 8
Tha‘labí 29
Thesaurus Opticus 7
Thomas of York 14
Thousand and One Nights 28
Timurid (dynasty, kingdom) 69, 99,

Toledo 31
Topkapi Scroll. 70
The Topkapi Scroll (Necipo� lu) 69,


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beauty and islam


Tractatus Logico-philosophicus
(Wittgenstein) 46, 74

Trattato della pittura (da Vinci) 24

Umayyad (dynasty, kingdom) 41
Uthïlïjiyå Aris†å†ålís 12

Vasarely, Victor 120n

da Vinci, Leonardo 24

Wahb b. Munnabih 30
Witelo 13, 23
Wittgenstein, Ludwig xii, 3, 56, 66

Yemen 44, 81
Yïsuf (I) 50

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