An exhibit of secular and religious Islamic art has opened at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago on the South Side.

Cosmophilia: Islamic Art from the David Collection, Copenhagen, running through May 20, illustrates a millennium of Islamic history in regions extending from Spain to India. The exhibit has more than 100 objects grouped into five sections — figures, writing, geometry, vegetation and the arabesque and hybrids. Each section traces how artisans used these decorations, and how the themes developed in different times and places. Here’s a look at the sections:

Figures: This section disproves a common misconception — that Islam prohibits figural representation. The Koran bans the worship of images, so pictures are not found in mosques and other religious settings. However, throughout history Muslims in many parts of the world have created pictures of people and animals in their everyday lives and secular art. Sometimes figures are portrayed realistically, others are more abstract.

Writing: The section focuses on the Koran, which Muslims believe was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century in Arabia. Reverence for the word therefore became a primary theme of religious art, and artists followed with beautiful calligraphy, which developed into many styles for different media and contexts. Also, many objects of daily life were decorated with non-Koranic poetry verses.

Geometry: Artisans exploited geometric ornament in a wide range of designs. Using simple dots, lines, chevrons, polygons and circles, they developed a virtually infinite variety of patterns.

Vegetation and the Arabesque: Artisans in Islamic lands inherited a rich tradition of decoration with vines, stems, leaves and flowers from the Mediterranean world and Sasanian Persia. Vegetal ornament was used regularly and consistently in all the arts throughout the regions where Islam was the dominant religion, thus making this the largest section of the exhibit.

Hybrids: Many artworks combine elements of the various themes.

The Smart Museum of Art is at 5550 S. Greenwood.
Admission is free. Call (773) 702-0200 or visit the Web site


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.