This claim that “Umayyad art is a combination of decorative styles and motifs drawn from different artistic traditions,” makes a lot of sense in the context of Islamic art, as we have seen comes in many different shapes and forms and often eludes being described by a single characteristic or tendency. In a broader sense, most all art is a combination of decorative styles and motifs drawn from different artistic traditions as art is a mode of transferring history and culture through place and time, and with the ever changing nature of geographic and political borders these cross-cultural references only seem natural if not necessary. Even the placement of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus as the capital of the Muslim Empire reflects the predominant artistic influences of Sassanian and Byzantine art upon Umayyad art which highlights not only the cultural but geographic influences present.
The text of the exhibition frequently mentions the classical artistic influences which can be seen in Umayyad art, which is explained by the fact that the parts of the Umayyad dynasty located in Syria which was previously Hellenised brought these ancient Greek artistic influences. The fresco panel “Dancers” was stated to reference the Roman repertoire, with art being heavily based upon figurative representations. The “Floor Painting” from Hegira 109 also shows this Roman influence both in content and form of figurative representations. This is especially interesting given the now established tendency of Islamic Art in general to not frequently depict figures, when this is such a commonplace and usual characteristic of classical art.
I think the curators provide many good examples to their claim about the combination of styles and motifs, but I think it could have been more interesting and illustrative had they also provided more side by side examples of the specific pieces of Umayyad art versus their classical Byzantine or Sassanian counterparts from which the connection and relation was being drawn from. The way in which art can be used to tell historical narratives can be very powerful given this mirroring and influential power of art and architecture.
However, the example of the Dome of the Rock as an example of Byzantine architectural and ornamental influences illustrated their claim very clearly. While it is explained how the architectural style of a mosque is deeply based upon the architectural structure and design of the house of the prophet Muhammad which naturally was before the Umayyad period, the Byzantine architectural similarities are quite apparent in other Umayyad architecture such as the Dome of the Rock. From the use of ornamental mosaics with extensive and lavish decorations, to the basic architectural style and grandeur which was used as a symbol of power and victory.