The term “Islamic Art” is used loosely because of the variety of styles seen in artwork deemed to be Islamic. Art and architecture was considered to be particularly eclectic in the Umayyad dynasty, as there was an overlap in styles from distinct artistic traditions. The diversity seen in Umayyad art and architecture is believed to be influenced by the Byzantine and Sassanian empires. The Dome of the Rock was built as a symbol of Umayyad victory and power, yet its style and architectural form resemble those seen in Byzantine buildings. This Islamic Mosque has ornamental mosaics as well, an artistic detail which started in the Sassanian region. There are other numerous examples of how the Umayyads took motifs from artwork of both of these regions as proven by the curators of the Umayyad exhibition.
The Umayyads used a wide variety of media for their art. The exhibition shows how the Umayyads made use of stone, wood, ivory, tile, marble, stucco, paint and basalt for their artwork. There wasn’t quite one medium that was predominately used.
Within the exhibition, “Four Basalt Reliefs” shows how the Umayyads took images, such as plants or animals, from the artwork of earlier time periods and used them as inspiration for their own work. While “Floor Painting” proves the impact that earlier religions had on early Islamic Art. The subject matter across the artwork in the exhibition also helps to prove the diversity of early Islamic art. Some of the art does depict human figures and animals, which goes against the Islamic tradition, which was later established, to avoid using figures in artwork. However, there are also a number of pieces with geometric and vegetal ornament, which resemble later Islamic art more closely. In many of the pieces in the exhibition, representational figures come together with nonrepresentational geometric forms or Arabic to create juxtaposition. This juxtaposition would later become a common trend seen throughout Islamic artwork for centuries.
Transferability is another Islamic artistic trend that helps to prove the diversity of early Islamic art within this exhibition. Common motifs and symbols are shown in a variety of different media, proving how the images seen in artwork of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires influenced Islamic artists in different ways. For example, the arches niches typically seen in Byzantine architecture was used in the Dome of the Rock as well as in the “Section of a marble frieze.” One of these pieces was a large-scale piece of architecture while the other is depicted upon a two-dimensional piece of marble. They are two completely different media but contain similar motifs. This arched niche motif is seen in “Ewer” and “Steatite Base” as well. These pieces serve no architectural purpose, however, they both contain architectural forms from the Byzantine empire.
The exhibition also makes note of where each piece originated from. The pieces seem to originate over a large expanse of land allowing the viewer to see the combination of places that contributed to the making Umayyad art.