The Museum With No Frontiers curators proved their claim that “Umayyad art is a combination of decorative styles and motifs drawn from different artistic traditions.” All of the chosen art and architecture display multi-cultural artistry from the many nations under Islamic rule. The Umayyad Caliphate was founded under a caliph in 661 AD. Its capitol, the center of the Muslim Empire in what is now modern day Syria, was Damascus. In total, it’s power stretched from Northeast Africa to Spain to Asia. The curators of the exhibit describe Ummayad art as “striking and vibrant[ly] eclec[tic]” because of all of its cultural influences. Umayyad art and architecture features designs from the Sassanian and Byzantine Empires and the Coptic age (Christianity being introduced into Egypt in 1 AD). Many of the motifs and architectural styles are a continuation of designs from the Late Antiquity period.
The Dome of the Rock (Hegira 72 / AD 691) was created in light of Byzantine architecture and mosaics. It is an Islamic monument, its walls decorated with ancient calligraphic texts from the Qur’an in kufic script. However, the architecture is derived from Byzantium styles, with a large dome and octagonal structure, much like the San Vitale in Italy, a church built in the Late Antiquity. The designs of the mosaic patterns have a more Sassanian influence in its lavish vegetal, spiraling patterns. Two carved limestone blocks (Hegira 2nd century / AD 8th century) from the palace complex of al-Qastal aptly demonstrate the stone-carved geometric and vegetal motifs also seen in Byzantine Empire. Decorative stone with stylized scrollwork and pomegranates (Around Hegira 86–96 / AD 705–15) also incorporates stylized plants motifs into the stone.
In the 2nd/8th century, because the caliph failed to conquer Constantinople, the Ummayads began to focus more on Sassanian (Iranian) motifs. The Sassanian Empire were know for their court culture, so the Floor Painting featuring a hunt is reflective of their obsession with court life and royalty. Created in Hegira 109 / AD 727, this painting depicts a hunting scene with musicians. The image of royals hunting depicts life in the Islamic court, as hunting served as practice warfare for royalty. Such paintings were a peek into the pastimes and hobbies of royalty, a rare privilege for common people to view. In both the Sassanian and Umayyad cultures, these works were used to decorate palaces.
Christian communities remained prosperous even under Islamic rule. They were generally accepted by Muslims, as the Koran directed tolerance, especially since both Islam and Christianity were monotheistic religions. Christian artisans created art for both religious and secular use. Thus, many Umayyad artifacts feature Christian imagery. Churches of the era were famous for their beautiful floor mosaics. For example, the Church of the Virgin Mary’s mosaic floor includes an inscription in the Greek language. This may suggest that the Christian Ummayads may have continued to speak Greek, even while Muslims spoke farsi. The decoration of the mosaic floor has geometric and floral motifs, but the inscription reads that an icon of the Virgin Mary once existed in the apse of the church. Again, mosaics are a Greek and Byzantine influence. As a multicultural empire, the Ummayad took inspiration from varying civilizations to create a decorative canon that blended a plethora of nations into one.