Learn About Islamic, Indian, & Middle Eastern Art

In our increasingly globalized world, more and more people are beginning to take interest in non-Western works of art.

Two men sitting near archway

Islamic, Indian, and Middle Eastern art are among the hottest sectors on the current art market, and it is easy to see why so many collectors are fascinated by the unique qualities that each type of art possesses. With the longstanding and rich histories that these cultures have, their legacies have persisted throughout centuries and succeeded in capturing international audiences. Whether it is the highly stylized meditative patterns of an Islamic mihrab, the genius exquisity of an illustrated copy of Maqamat, or the divinely vivid imagery in an Indian Hindu temple, there is without a doubt something to interest any audience.

Islamic and Middle Eastern art

Middle Eastern art refers to any visual work created within this specific regional area, while Islamic art typically refers to artwork created within the Islamic world. While the Islamic world does in fact span outside of the Middle Eastern region, the two terms are often used synonymously to describe art of a broad geographic area, covering a great variety of lands, people, cultures, time periods, and genres, including work of both a religious and secular nature. 

"Calligraphy was used not only as a means of recording and communicating ideas, but a meditative process that was meant to pay respect to God, or Allah."

Mosques and calligraphy

Religious art in the Islamic world holds much of its reputation of opulence from subcategories such as its religious buildings and their architecture and decoration, as well as calligraphy. Many mosques dating back to medieval times are still standing and in use today. Their formal structure, varying from sharp and militaristic to vibrantly detailed and elegant, reflects their respective eras and associated political and religious climates. 

Calligraphy was used not only as a means of recording and communicating ideas, but a meditative process that was meant to pay respect to God, or Allah. The act of painstakingly writing down excerpts of the Qur’an, creating an often beautiful and artistically rendered decoration from the words themselves, was thought to exhibit a high level of devotion, attention, and admiration towards the word of God.

Secular art

A notable example of Middle Eastern art that falls under the secular realm would be illustrated books or codices. Entertainment was a significant part of Islamic culture throughout the ages, and many wealthy court members or higher up figures were able to afford to have these stories recorded and visualized in book form. One of these such books was the Maqamat Al-Hariri, which chronicled the stories of savvy wanderer and con-man, Abu Zayd. The oldest manuscript of this work still to exist today dates back to the 13th century, and features impressively detailed and personality driven illustrations of the stories’ events.

painting of reclining Indian woman

Indian Art

Indian art describes visual work created within the entire subcontinent of India, and is characterized by its elevated sense of design, and wide variety of forms and mediums. The Indian artistic tradition is a longstanding one, with evidence of artwork existing from up to 3000 BCE. Comprising of such a large geographic area, the influences that have effected Indian culture are many, as the region has been home to various religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Indian Sculpture

The medium of Indian art that has best stood the test of time is sculpture. These artifacts allow us insight into cultures that existed hundreds, even thousands of years ago, mainly within a religious context, as these sculptures were often made to decorate places of spiritual worship. Much of Ancient Indian history can be divided chronologically by a series of dynasties, each of which bore their own characteristic artistic styles.

Indian Temples

Indian artwork, specifically in the case of temple architecture, can also be further categorized into the Dravidian, or Southern Indian style, and the Nagara, or Northern Indian style. Each of these distinct styles are separated by the unique conventions regarding their respective temple layouts and specific architectural components. The famous Temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are a notable example of the Nagara style, and are known for their awe-inspiring displays of exquisitely carved sculptures, depicting central ideas of Hinduism, and scenes of life including some erotic subjects.

Cultural Legacies

Middle Eastern, Islamic, and Indian artwork are all very different, widely ranged topics in art. However they all share in common their own unique proclivity for evoking a sense of divine otherworldliness through the use of vivid, emotionally inspiring imagery and intricacies. With such long histories of artistic creation and visual communication, it is easy to see how their legacies have endured and influenced subsequent cultures for millennia, captivating audiences of the modern world as if we were seeing them for the very first time. With such perseverance in culture, aesthetic appeal, and spirituality, it is more than likely that these bodies of work will continue to inspire for generations more.

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