The online exhibit on the art and architecture of the Umayyads states that the art is a combination of different art styles and motifs from other cultural traditions. The exhibit combines a brief paragraph on the historical background of the period and pictures of different buildings, artistic motifs, and objects such as pottery.
The art of the Umayyads, and many other Islamic groups, were greatly influenced by the art and architecture of the Grecco-Romans, the early Christian Byzantines, and from East-Asian styles. They also included elements of the Sassanian culture. The Umayyads used their architecture and the creation of ‘desert palaces’ to show their power and wealth. These palaces were decorated with extravagant mosaics, carved stonework, and stucco carvings.
For a while the Muslims made no attempt to enforce new forms of government or Arabic as a language. The Arabs did eventually create their own coinage system using a similar style as the Roman coins with the emperors cameo on them. On some of the coins in the exhibit there is both Latin and Arabic writing. Like many other cultures, there were a number of patrons who commissioned religious buildings. By doing this, the rulers demonstrated their power and wealth as well as the power of the new faith, Islam.
Many elements of Islamic art were influenced by Hellenistic styles. The province where the Umayyad Empire was established was very Greco-Roman for last millennium. Byzantine architecture can be seen in the arches of the Dome of the Rock and the highly elaborate mosaics decorations. The rounded arches and arcade that are decorated with mosaics inside the Dome of the Rock are very similar to the churches built during the Byzantine era. A wooden panel with a symmetrical floral design in the exhibit shows characteristics of Hellenistic art styles. A detailed floor painting shows the influence of Roman myths. Other paintings show how Islamic art started to use meaning and allegory, something that early Christian art and Greco-Roman art had been incorporating for centuries. Some popular motifs that are frequently used throughout the centuries in many different cultures are present in ‘desert palace’ decorations. An example of this is the motif of a lion conquering a bull that is used as an example in the exhibit.
Christianity was also thriving at the time of the Umayyads. Because they were also people of the book it makes sense that many Christian artistic elements were still present during this dynasty. The presences Christian religious art as well as secular art intermingled with Islamic art.
I think that the curators were correct in saying that the art of the Umayyads was greatly influenced and drew heavily from the motifs and styles of the art and architecture from many other cultures and areas. There are many examples of artwork and buildings that have similar characteristics to other cultures such as the Byzantines and Greco-Romans.