In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Art

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals and Series
  • Image Sources and Digital Libraries
  • Architecture
  • Arms and Armor
  • Calligraphy and Ornament
  • Carpets
  • Ceramics
  • Glass
  • Metalwork
  • Painting and Book Arts
  • Textiles
  • Islamic Gardens and Garden Art

Islamic Studies Islamic Art
Walter Denny
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 December 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0010


The term “Islamic Art,” as conventionally used today in the organization of museum departments and the delineation of academic boundaries in higher education, usually refers to works of architecture and visual arts created in cultures in which the Islamic political and cultural component is dominant. The term may also encompass works of art created by Muslim artists and artisans in other cultures (for example, Mudejar art, the art of Muslims working for Christian patrons in Spain). Generally, the dominant characterizing variable of the visual arts is the language of style, as opposed to the variables of artists’ or patrons’ ethnicity, religion, or spoken language. Thus the assessment of art-historical bibliography necessarily involves both text and illustrations. In the second half of the 20th century the academic study of Islamic art developed the methodology, the chronological framework, and the parameters of regional study that today characterize the field and its publications. The emergence of 35-millimeter color slide film suitable for academic classroom instruction, of more economical means of publishing illustrations in color, and more recently of online visual resources in electronic form, have had an enormous impact on both the study and the publication of the history of art in general, and on the history of Islamic art in particular. The representative works selected from thousands for inclusion here have been assessed in terms of quality of scholarship, accessibility, quality of illustrations, and proven usefulness to undergraduate students in classes over forty years.

General Overviews

Basic surveys of the entire field must cover a vast purview; many older general surveys that have been omitted from this list, often consisting in the main of illustrations with a brief textual commentary, are today discounted as important bibliographical resources. The most important general surveys of the field used today have appeared as textbooks; a number of definitive studies have appeared as chapters in larger publications; Ettinghausen 1976 is a masterly example. It is noteworthy that there is very little contributed in this general vein from Muslim authors, although this situation will undoubtedly change in the near future. Grabar 1987 has become a modern classic in the field. General works intended for a broad audience vary in quality; the following selection necessarily represents a sample only of some of the most important and widely read general works.

  • Blair, Sheila S., and Bloom, Jonathan M. “The Mirage of Islamic Art: Reflections on the Study of an Unwieldy Field.” Art Bulletin 85, no. 1 (March 2003): 152–184.

    DOI: 10.2307/3177331

    A sometimes controversial commentary on developments in the field.

  • Burckhardt, Titus. Art of Islam: Language and Meaning. Translated by J. Peter Hobson. London: World of Islam Festival Trust, 1976.

    One of the few comprehensive general works on the subject written from a Muslim perspective.

  • Ettinghausen, Richard. From Byzantium to Sasanian Iran and the Islamic World: Three Modes of Artistic Influence. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1972.

    Three highly concentrated, interrelated articles with an introduction, presenting this leading Islamic scholar’s views on the formative period of Islamic art.

  • Ettinghausen, Richard. “The Man-made Setting.” In The World of Islam: Faith, People, Culture. Edited by Bernard Lewis, 57–72. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

    A short and definitive general précis of Islamic art by one of its most important scholars. The World of Islam was published in the United States as Islam and the Arab World (New York: Knopf, 1976).

  • Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art (rev. and enl. ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

    Originally published in 1973, and still the most widely influential and wide-ranging general work dealing with the early period, often used as a textbook in university courses.

  • Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

    The most recent encyclopedic survey of Islamic architecture, arranged by architectural genre.

  • Michell, George, ed. Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning, with a Complete Survey of Key Monuments. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

    Incorporating a complete survey of key monuments as well as chapters on individual building types written by major authorities, this long-lived work has remained in print for several decades. (An American edition was published in New York by William Morrow, also in 1978.)

  • Vernoit, Stephen, ed. Discovering Islamic Art: Scholars, Collectors and Collections. London: I. B. Tauris, 2000.

    A collection of essays on the early development of the field, with contributions by many leading scholars.

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