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Arabian Art, Ornament & Decoration

When the Islamic religion of Mohammed spread with such astounding rapidity over the East, the growing wants of a new civilisation naturally led to the formation of a new style of Art; and whilst it is certain that the early edifices of the Mohammedans were either old Roman or Byzantine buildings adapted to their own uses, or buildings constructed on the ruins and with the materials of ancient monuments, it is equally certain that the new wants to be supplied, and the new feelings to be expressed, must at a very early period have given a peculiar character to their architecture.

Spandril of an aroh from Sta. Sophia
Spandril of an aroh from Sta. Sophia.

In the buildings which they constructed partly of old materials, they endeavoured, in the new parts of the structure, to imitate the details borrowed from old buildings. The same result followed as had already taken place in the transformation of the Roman style to the Byzantine: the imitations were crude and imperfect. But this very imperfection gave birth to a new order of ideas; they never returned to the original model, but gradually threw off the shackles which the original model imposed. The Mohammedans, very early in their history, formed and perfected a style of art peculiarly their own.

Arabian Ornaments of the Ninth Century from Cairo
Arabian Ornaments of the Ninth Century from Cairo, Plate XXXI.

The ornaments on Plate XXXI. are from the Mosque of Tooloon in Cairo, which was erected in 876, only 250 years after the establishment of Mohammedanism, and we in this mosque already find a style of architecture complete in itself, - retaining, it is true, traces of its origin, but being entirely freed from any direct imitation of the previous style. This result is very remarkable when compared with the results of the Christian religion in another direction. It can hardly be said that Christianity produced an architecture peculiarly its own, and entirely freed from traces of paganism, until the twelfth or thirteenth century.

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