Islamic and Christian art developed in different directions as a result of Muslim attitudes against the artistic portrayal of living beings. Over time, however, interaction between Muslims and Christians led to mutual influence, both of Muslim art on Christian art and of Christian art on Muslim art.
According to Islamic tradition, painters of living beings will be called before God on Judgment Day and ordered to bring their images to life. When they fail to do so, they will be cast into hell for the sin of hubris. Muslims typically did not paint images of living creatures, but only of looping geometric designs. This Arabesque tradition of painting was inspired by the mathematics of Euclid and the philosophy of Plato as re-interpreted through Muslim eyes. The purpose of the geometric images was to symbolize a realm of divine perfection, above and beyond the mortal world.
Influence of the Arabesque
Spain was ruled by the Muslim Moors for more than 800 years, but Christian communities still existed in Spain for this entire period, and often adopted elements of the Muslim culture into their own. The Christian Mozarabic people of Spain copied some aspects of Moorish architecture in their churches. In addition, the Mudejar style of art from 12th century Spain incorporated the Muslim love of geometric designs. Mudejar geometric designs were used on a number of Spanish Christian churches, and this style of art still has an influence on Spanish architecture in modern times.
Influence on Byzantine Art
The Christian Byzantine Empire was the military and political enemy of Muslim expansion until it fell, but the two cultures still had an influence on each others' artistic traditions. Arabic calligraphy was an inspiration for the design of the monastic church of Hosios Loukas, and Byzantine artisans helped to create the mosaics in the Dome of the Rock. Muslim traditions of manuscript illumination influenced the decoration of hand-lettered Christian gospels in Ethiopia. As the Muslim prohibition against painting living creatures began to lose its force, Byzantine religious icons exerted an influence on Muslim painting traditions.
Scenes from the Bible
Christian and Islamic art traditions came together in the portrayal of stories from the Old Testament and its associated Jewish lore. Despite the early prohibition against painting living beings, Muslim artists eventually began to do so. A frequent choice of topic was the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, and collections of Jewish stories about the characters in the Old Testament. Both sources were also frequently used by Christian artists, so Christian and Muslim paintings of this type are highly similar. Popular stories for artistic depiction included Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Solomon and Sheba.
Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.