Islamic art

by Eszter Hargittai on March 29, 2009

Art museum ceilingI spent a few days in Qatar earlier this week and got to go to the recently-opened Museum of Islamic Art. The building itself is stunning (to the right here is the ceiling) and the art inside was wonderful.

In college, one of my favorite courses was Smith’s famous “Art 100” (since discontinued, * sniff *), a year-long course that covered art through the ages and across cultures. The time we spent on Islamic art was one of the highlights for me so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see this wonderful museum in Doha.

Here’s a sampling of my collection of photos taken in and around the museum, click the various thumbnails for larger versions or see the Flickr set for more.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Old book in Arabic Art in the museum Patterns Ceramics
Monkey Museum fountain Turquoise Paintings of people, rare occurrence Art museum visitors
Rotational symmetry Rotational symmetry Arches Mask Museum of Islamic Art at night



Doctor Science 03.30.09 at 12:55 am

“Old Book”?!? Is that the only info you have for this?!?

It looks to me like a Persian (Iranian) work, probably of the late 15th-16th C. — and I can’t read the lettering, either, that’s just based on the style.


lisa 03.30.09 at 12:59 am

Amazing museum. I love that symmetrical bird. The weird thing is that the ceiling and some of these pieces have this mid-century/Danish modern type thing going on, but with a twist. I wonder if Aldo Londi was somehow influenced by Islamic art or if this is just one of those odd aesthetic coincidences.


agm 03.30.09 at 1:06 am

I love the fisheye lens projection in “Rotational Symmetry”


joel turnipseed 03.30.09 at 1:43 am

These are great. If you’re interested in contemporary artists, Paul Barchilon does amazing stuff:


Eszter Hargittai 03.30.09 at 2:31 am

DS, sorry about that, it’s lame, I was adding titles to hundreds of photos and for some of them didn’t have much to go on. I’m quite sure this depicts Noshir ??, but will have to look into the details. For some of the pieces, I took pictures of the plates explaining them, but I only had a couple of hours in the museum and had limited battery capacity so did not document everything the way that would have been ideal. And with everything I saw, I remember few of those details based on a quick look at the descriptions.

Lisa, symmetry is an amazing component in most of this, whether mirror, rotational or another type.

agm, a good chunk of the items (mug, scarf, tie) in the gift shop were inspired by that design.

JT, ooh, nice! It’s making me think that instead of collecting menorahs, I should be working on a Seder plate collection!


LFC 03.30.09 at 3:38 am

“Smith’s famous Art 100”
For those of us too lazy to look up your c.v. and not up on our art historians, who is/was Smith and where does/did he or she teach?


LFC 03.30.09 at 4:34 am

I realized after writing the above that you must have meant Smith College. Tired — sorry.


Randolph 03.30.09 at 9:22 am

Thanks–I love these. BTW, the museum designers were I.M. Pei, architect, and Jean-Michelle Wilmotte, interiors.


John Meredith 03.30.09 at 11:43 am

It’s a pity about the ‘Islamic art’ designation, though. A lot of these pieces seem to me to have little to do with Islam except they awere made in Islamic countries, possibly by Muslims. The Koran is beautiful, of course, but it feels like Islam is largely present here by what it excludes rather than what it creates. Beautiful building tho but.


P.D. 03.30.09 at 1:29 pm

“Arches” is a really beautiful photograph. Great composition. It took me a moment to realize that it was a photo of an actual scene, rather than a photo of a contemporary painting.


Eszter Hargittai 03.30.09 at 1:51 pm

LFC, indeed, Smith College. The course was taught by the entire art history faculty, everyone teaching his/her area of specialty, which is partly what made it so great.

P.D., thanks, I thought the mix of the arches with the contemporary skyscrapers in the background coupled with the folks up front worked out well.:)


mollymooly 03.30.09 at 8:00 pm

Is “Art 100” meant to precede “Art 101”, or is that a Smith convention?


Eszter Hargittai 03.31.09 at 12:05 am

Mollymooly, I’m pretty sure back then – mid 90s and earlier – all other art classes were in the 200s or higher. This was a special course.


Doctor Science 03.31.09 at 2:38 am

John Meredith:

I think the word they were looking for is “Islamdom”, which Marshall Hodgson uses in the magisterial The Venture of Islam, to describe a broad culture, united by religion but not defined completely by it — by analogy with “Christendom”, of course. I cannot recommend Hodgson’s books too highly: they give not merely a history of Islamdom, but an *understanding*.


Kaveh Hemmat 03.31.09 at 1:41 pm

Dr Science:

I think you mean “Islamicate”, like “Islamicate art”. “Islamdom” refers to the territory under Islamic rule, just like “Christendom”, I haven’t really heard people use it as in “Art of Islamdom”. For those who don’t know, “Islamicate” refers to stuff of all kinds, including stuff produced by non-Muslims, in a predominantly Muslim cultural context. I don’t see people using “Islamicate” that much, but for some reason “Persianate” (including stuff like Urdu literature, or Tibetan decorative art in an Iranian style) has caught on. But I think you can just read “Islamic” in cases like this museum as meaning “Islamicate”.

The book looks like something from the Timurid or early Safavid periods, say, 1400 – 1600.

And I second your recommendation, Hodgson’s books are a truly excellent.


roac 03.31.09 at 2:50 pm

Why is the monkey wearing a cap?


mossy 03.31.09 at 5:28 pm

And why did Smith stop teaching that course???


roac 03.31.09 at 7:46 pm

OK, I figured out who the monkey looks like —Lemont Brown from Candorville


Eszter 04.02.09 at 2:13 pm

And why did Smith stop teaching that course???

Good question. As a student/alum, I was furious to hear about this. More Smith alums can say they took that course (and probably loved it) than any other. That said, from the faculty’s perspective, perhaps it was a lot more work than a usual teaching load (granted, I don’t actually know how it counted toward one’s teaching load). It was by far one of the best courses I took in college.


Doctor Science 04.02.09 at 3:03 pm


D’oh!*forehead slap* Yes, “Islamicate” was what I was thinking of.

Comments on this entry are closed.