The curators of the on-line Abbasid exhibition claim that, “It is not until the Abbasid period that a distinct type and style of ceramic ware emerged that can be distinguished technically as ‘Islamic’.” I believe that the ceramics featured in the exhibition support this claim. The exhibition shows multiple different types of ceramics from the Abbasid period that all have similar motifs or styles. One of the most iconic characteristics of Islamic art is the use of inscriptions. Before the Abbasids there weren’t very many ceramic pieces that drew almost entirely from Islamic designs. For example the Vertical Sided Bowl from the 4th century is decorated with a gold and cobalt blue Arabic inscription only. This style is unique to Islamic art; the inscription itself serves as the decoration because the writing itself is so artistically inclined with the use of volutes and exaggerated spirals.
The curators of the exhibition state that the first steps towards creating an Islamic style of art was evident in the attempt to emulate Chinese porcelain. Chinese ceramics were highly valued throughout the world and the Chinese artistic style has influenced many cultures, including the Abbasids. The Abbasid Bowl with Radial Decoration from the second half of the 3rd century shows an attempt to imitate Chinese Porcelain by using a lead based glaze to make the clay appear white. The Ceramic Bowl from the 3rd to 4th century also emulates a technique used with Chinese Ceramics. The type of Abbasid blue-and-white ceramic, like this bowl, was inspired by the Splashed T’ang-period wares. The center inscription however is an entirely Islamic idea.
Since the Umayyads Islamic art has borrowed from a variety of different cultures such as the Byzantine Empire, the Romans, and the Sassanians. It is not a new concept that the Abbasids borrowed from the Chinese when they first started producing more ceramics. The Abbasid Empire bridged the gap between the Muslims and non-Muslims, which brought rise to many new crafting markets. The new increase in pottery production allowed for experimentation with glazing techniques, decoration and pottery forms. The Ceramic Jar from the 2nd century is inspired by pre-Islamic and Roman designs. This jar was most likely traded from the Umayyads when a majority of the art was inspired by the approbation of different cultures.
In contrast to this elaborate jar, ceramics such as the Dish with Imaginary Animal and the Bowl with Wing-Shaped Palmettes are to be considered more uniquely Islamic in terms of artistic decoration. These bowls are simpler with very little color, geometric or leaf-like designs and Arabic inscriptions. Something that is also unique to Islamic art is the use of inscriptions to wish the user or owner of the vessel a blessing. In some ways this makes the vessel more interactive with the user.
I think that in some ways it is difficult to classify Islamic art as “Islamic”. I don’t think there is truly an art from that doesn’t take inspiration from something else or some other culture. Part of what Islamic art is, is that use of different ideas of different cultures, extending on them and making them their own.