08. ART – Islamic Art & Architecture: A Mirror of the Cosmos


Islamic art and architecture are perhaps the most accessible expressions of a complex civilization that often seems enigmatic to outsiders. Through its majestic domes and minarets, palaces, courtyards, terraced gardens with water fountains and fragrant roses, tile mosaic often in blue, golden and green, exquisite calligraphic inscriptions from the Qur’an, and sophisticated geometrical and floral engravings, Islamic art creates strong aesthetic appeal across time, space, culture, and creed.

The great strength of Islamic art lies in its ability to synthesize diverse design elements from Byzantine, Coptic, Roman, Persian, and other sources into a distinctive stylistic and iconographic language that reflects its unifying belief in balance and harmony in all things.

In the West since the Renaissance, whenever a realistic portrayal was required, three-point perspective was the artist-draughtsperson’s primary tool. Arab-Islamic artists, however, took a different route, privileging geometric abstraction and the aerial “God’s-eye” view. Art historian and media theorist Hans Belting respectfully parallels Islamic and Judeo-Christian thinking about science, math, imagery and meaning, to illumine – and mitigate — hitherto irreconcilable world-views. Comparing the image-phobic East and the image-addicted West, Belting proffers pivotal insights into issues of the gaze and illusionistic perspective, among others. Participants will garner new understanding and appetite for cross-cultural dialogue in art and architecture, inspired by this generous, original and urgently needed book.

Each morning the group will discuss the book along with specific images. There will be several optional afternoon field-trips to see Islamic art, including a visit to the new Agha Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana in Toronto. http://www.akdn.org/museum/

“Florence and Baghdad is a refreshing appeal to view the genesis of the unconscious visual foundations in both cultures in all their historical complexity and to illuminate their interdependence.”

– Die Tageszeitung


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Betty Ann Jordan is a Toronto-based art writer and tour leader who provides an insider’s perspective on the city’s visual culture. She is excited about taking a closer,
open-hearted look at art forms that part the veil on Islamic ideals of spirit and flesh, beauty and the cosmos. Field trips will include the brand new Aga Khan Museum, containing some of the most celebrated Islamic Art in the world.

Participants are required to obtain the specified editions in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Florence & Baghdad : Renaissance Art and Arab Science by Hans Belting (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Tra edition, 2011) ISBN-13: 978-0674050044

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