This weekend, I toured an exhibit of Islamic art at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts currently on loan from the State of Kuwait. The objects offer a tantalizing selection from the al-Sabah Collection, described as one of the most comprehensive and distinguished collections of Islamic art in the world. I was drawn to this description of geometry in art and architecture adjacent to an ornamented panel that served as a niche, possibly a mihrab niche in a mosque. The description suggests a way of understanding the intensely spiritual connection associated with the proliferation of geometric pattern in Islamic art and architecture.
“The genius of Islamic artists is seen in abstract representation, where mathematics and geometry both play a major role. Their inventiveness rose to unparalleled heights as they created geometric patterns of endless variations. Infinity is the key word in this context. One of God’s unique and inimitable attributes is the concept of infinity. A real or “realistic” depiction of God, who is often “represented” in written form, is not possible. The concept of infinity, like that of eternity, is not of this world and is pervaded by so many transformative possibilities that it is impossible to enumerate them all.”
This Mihrab is now at the MET in New York. It is from Iran and dates from the 1300's.
The creation of so many variations on a simple circle and line in the interconnection of shapes, the colors and textures, even the size and scale may all be considered a way of expressing sacred geometry. It all adds up to mathematical infinity as a way to contemplate God’s vastness. I’ve scared up several texts on line and will be looking more closely at this subject in the future. Already it gives me a new way to approach Islamic art and architecture. While the patterns have always been mesmerizing, it never occurred to me that may actually be the point!