Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Islamic Star Patterns in Tile Design


As a recent Art History graduate from Loyola Marymount University, the Arts of Islam became a favorite subject among the various cultures and styles I studied.

Iran or Central Asia, 15th Century. LACMA


Dating back to as early as the 7th century the Islamic Arts have influenced an array of cultures and societies, such as the notable geometric designs in their tile work. These tiles were commonly used as floor and wall applications and to decorate mihrabs, the architectural niches in mosques. Examples of this work still exist in Spain, Italy, Morocco, India, and Turkey.

Because Islamic cultural beliefs negated the use of human form depictions, creative inspirations of florals, stars, animals, and geometric designs were used in the elaborate mosaics that became readily identifiable as Islamic.

In examining the floral and star motifs, also known as arabesque, it has been determined that intricate and complex algebraic formulas were used in creating the geometry behind these patterns. One such example is the star pattern, whose beauty is contributed to by the high degree of symmetry.

Four Triangles within a Circle
Four Triangles within a Circle
Image Credit
Two Hexagons with a Circle
Two Hexagons with a Circle
Image Credit













These motifs utilize what is referred to as the n-fold rotational symmetry, where n represents a range of whole numbers from 3 to 100. These patterns utilize a two dimensional plane with some polygon cells or shapes meeting at their edges, while others meet at the vertex points.

These star polygons were not limited only to the painted figure. Islamic tile were oftentimes manufactured in a star pattern where they were organized into a complex mosaic.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Image Credit
Early Islamic tiles involved a simple process of cutting single color, small tile fragments and assembled with the use of liquid plaster. This technique evolved to include painted pictures on plain tiles which were then glazed and fired afterwards. The color palette also extended to include oranges and yellows.

It is the mosaics of the 15th century C.E. that have become most widely known and influential, known as "mosaic faience." An interesting note is that these tiles were applied over brick in an "undulating" fashion; as the light and reflections changed throughout day and evening, so did the sheen and brilliance of the various tile colors.

Maqsura, Great Mosque, Cordoba
Maqsura, Great Mosque, Cordoba,
Arts of Islam at Loyola Marymount University,
Dr. Aliaa El Sandouby

It is easy to see why the beauty of the Islamic tiles has spanned cultures and centuries. With their vibrant colors and eye-catching shapes and designs, artisans have a near endless variety of choices of expression.
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