Islamic Geometric Patterns: Religious Influences & Examples

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  • 0:03 Islamic Geometric Patterns
  • 1:53 Religious Influences
  • 3:20 Architecture,…
  • 4:23 Carpet Weaving and Book Covers
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, explore Islamic geometric patterns in various art forms, including architecture and carpets. Learn about the religious influences behind the development of these elaborate designs, the main elements that compose the patterns, and some examples of their use in art.

Islamic Geometric Patterns

Hafez Tomb in Iran

Take a close look at this picture. It's a ceiling in Iran. The design is very elaborate and even a little dense. However, everything feels balanced, as if every single element was put in the right place. If you look deeper into it, you'll see that all that complex artwork is formed by simple geometric shapes. These Islamic geometric patterns are elaborate artistic designs made by repeating, interlacing, and combining basic geometric forms in large arrays.

Islamic geometric patterns are formed from four basic shapes: circles, squares, stars, and multi-sided polygons. The circle and the square are the most basic shapes. The star shape is derived from squares or triangles inscribed in a circle, and the 8-point star is a common element in Islamic art.

The shapes can be combined in a virtually unlimited number of designs and arrays. The simple elements create complex designs that offer the possibility of infinite growth by repeating and expanding the elements. The geometric patterns often incorporate other types of ornamentation.

The decorations made from geometric patterns have a strong sense of balance and equilibrium, as a result of the symmetry and the thorough proportions of all the elements.

The use of geometric patterns dates from the early times of Islam. Some of the oldest examples are from the 9th-century and consist of isolated shapes and eight-pointed stars. The designs evolved during the following centuries and increased in complexity and level of detail.

In addition to geometric patterns, calligraphy and arabesque patterns are the other two types of non-figurative Islamic art. Arabesque refers to floral motifs created by combining lines and vegetal elements, which can be flowers, leaves, or tree branches.

Religious Influences

There is a direct relation between Islamic religious beliefs and the evolution and use of geometric patterns.

Probably the most commonly known Islamic principle influencing art is aniconism, which is the discouragement of the representation of figures of beings. The Quran says that the work of God is unique and unrepeatable. Therefore, representations of animal and human figures are very rare because they are considered to be an attempt at imitating the work of God and competing with His genius. Representing God is unthinkable in Islam, and it is considered an offensive act of blasphemy. Even plants are represented in very stylized forms so that they are not seen as imitations of God's creations.

The lack of figures contrasts with the imagery of Christianity and other religions like Buddhism or Hinduism, in which deities are represented as specific figures, and such representations become objects of art.

Another religious influence in Islamic art is the doctrine of Divine Unity, or tawhid, which states that God is unique and is the one and only diving being and creator of the universe. The concept of God goes beyond the idea of the infinity and beyond any human capacity to describe it. The geometric patterns and arabesques are believed to represent that sense of infinity because they don't have a clear beginning nor an end; they are elements combined as a unit without end.

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