The Abbasid Dynasty, which rose to power in 750 AD and lasted for half a century, united Arab and non-Arab communities through a rise in wealth and trade. This new wealth and trade also provided for an increase in art production, especially in ceramics. Therefore, it was in the Abbasid period, as the Museum with No Frontiers states, “that a distinctive type and style of ceramic ware emerged that can be distinguished technically as ‘Islamic’”. This exhibition claims the first ‘Islamic’ pieces of ceramic contain high levels of Chinese influence. Works such as “Bowl with radial decoration” emulate the shape and use of porcelain common in Chinese ceramic of the T’ang period (AD 618-906). The use of the creamy white and blue cobalt colors, as well as the center motif, known as ‘Solomon’s Seal’, became highly popular in the newly established Islamic style.
Also emulating the shape and creamy white porcelain of Chinese ceramics, the Abbasid “Ceramic Bowl” was created by early Abbasid potters using the “under-fire alkaline glaze” specifically to capture these porcelain properties. However, this work is more clearly Islamic than “Bowl with radial design” through its use of Arabic kufic script. This highly decorative script is not fully legible. However, it can be read as containing the word “Muhammad”, either a reference to the prophet of Islam or possibly the name of the artist of the ceramic piece. The phrase “enjoy your meal” can also be read within the script. Through this inclusion of Arabic kufic script, “Ceramic Bowl” exemplifies the incorporation of influences outside of the Abbasid Dynasty within the art of the Abbasids. These influences, including those of Chinese ceramics, were most likely brought to the Abbasid Empire through trade, and were then incorporated into the art and identity of the newly formed and growing Islamic world.
Therefore, the Museum with No Frontiers is arguing that while art has been created for Islamic purposes before the Abbasids, such as the Dome of the Rock by the Umayyad Dynasty, founded in 661 AD and later overthrown by the Abbasids, the Abbasids were the first to create a style distinctly Islamic. However, I do not agree with this statement, as the Abbasid Dynasty, through its high levels of Chinese influence, appropriate the styles of the Chinese art, just as the artists of the Umayyad Dynasty appropriated Sassanians and Byzantine art to create their ‘Islamic’ works. Through this similarity I do not see how one could call the art of the Abbasids the first true Islamic art, while many of its properties of influence and appropriation are highly similar to those of the art of its predecessors, the Umayyad Dynasty.