Islamic Geometric Design

Islamic geometric patterns, with their mesmerizing complexity and aesthetic allure, reflect a deep connection between mathematics, spirituality, and aesthetics in Islamic culture. Proscriptions against figural representation in the religious sphere– which were variously interpreted across times and cultures – reinforced the development of three main canons of Islamic art: the calligraphic, biomorphic, and geometric. Often all three were used in art produced for mosques. Architectural surfaces, furnishings, and manuscripts of the Quran were decorated with scriptural verses, biomorphic patterns of flowers, leaves, and vines, and geometric shapes composed using just a compass and straight edge.

Across the medieval Islamic world, geometric patterns were developed into localized variants: woodwork of intersecting twelve-point stars in the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria; radiating rings of brightly colored cut tile designs in Morocco; and vivid blue zigzag tiling in the Timurid Empire. Needless to say, these complex geometrical designs emerged from some of the most highly advanced intellectual and scientific centers of the Middle Ages: Muslim Spain had schools and over seventy libraries, while scholars in Baghdad translated Greek texts and made important scientific discoveries.

Although there is little textual evidence to show how contemporary artists, patrons, and viewers interpreted these geometric patterns, many explanations have been proposed. With their central point of origin and interconnectedness, they suggest beliefs in the unity and harmony inherent in the universe. Their repetitive forms, rhythm, and order may facilitate meditative prayer practices. From an aesthetic standpoint, their intricate details dissolve material surfaces and contrast with monumental architectural forms.

Today, contemporary artists and designers continue to draw inspiration from these historical patterns, integrating them into modern aesthetics and ensuring the ongoing legacy of Islamic geometric design.

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