Advertisement Close

"History of Arab Art" Demystifies Western View that Arabs didn't have a Visual Tradition

posted on: Dec 12, 2018

'History of Arab Art' Demystifies Western View that Arabs didn't have a Visual Tradition

Pheonician Statuettes

By: Hashim Al-Tawil/Arab America Contributing Writer

History of Arab Art introduces a new outlook to this hitherto marginalized field of cultural and artistic creativity, which has been inundated by myth and outdated convention. It is essentially a reinterpretation of the visual tradition among the Arab people since around 2000 BCE to the present time.

The book explores and chronicles the formation and development of that diverse tradition, explaining its interaction and exchange with various neighboring cultures. Based on archaeological sources, academic studies, and surviving cultural materials, it provides the reader with a critical understanding of Arab visual art throughout its history. It introduces the readers to the diverse manifestations of Arab visual aesthetics through the Phoenician-Canaanite, South and North Arabian, Nabataean, and Medieval Islamic junctures.

"History of Arab Art" Demystifies Western View that Arabs didn't have a Visual Tradition

Kahl Wadd

This book challenges and demystifies the conventional western view that the Arabs did not have a visual tradition compatible with surrounding cultures. Arab culture developed in ancient times with strong presence along the Silk Road in the Arabian Peninsula region and surrounding territories.

Arabs interacted with main powers: Canaanite-Phoenicians with early Greek, Egypt, and Mesopotamia; North Arabian Nabataeans with Assyrians, New Babylonians, and Romans; South Arabians with Sassanians, and Byzantines; Arabs of Syria, Palestine and the Saini with Romans, Byzantine, and Sassanians.

Throughout this period (1500 BCE-630 CE) Arabs in these regions produced significant visual tradition in the art of South Arabian Kingdoms in the Yemen region, the Nabataeans in Petra and Palmyra, along with Hira, and Hatra in Iraq. A tradition that reflects cultural exchange, assimilation, and stimulation. Later, and with the rise of the new Arab power in the 7th century, that visual tradition played a major role in the formation of early Islamic art.

"History of Arab Art" Demystifies Western View that Arabs didn't have a Visual Tradition

Qusay Amra Dancer

The book focuses on the characteristics of Arab visual tradition especially the literary communicative forms, where the Arabic language and the various Aramaic dialects are employed. Arab visual art initiated what can be called “Oratorical Architecture” where the architectural space is covered with a striking text of Arabic inscriptions that invite, spark, and prompt a communicative dialogue. Such oratory is found inside the Dome of the Rock, many Abbasid buildings, and throughout the Andalus, especially Al-Hamra` (Alhambra) complex.

While western publications systemically undermined, confused and misidentify Arab art, this book traces, analyzes, and explains the development of Arab visual art and architecture in its contextual frame.

The book covers an important era of cultural impact and exchange with European cultures through Spain, Sicily, the Mediterranean region and Southern Italy (9th -16th centuries). Incorporated are images of artworks and architectural structures such as the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily, and museums throughout Europe and the Arab world. Numerous examples of European borrowing are explained where Arab visual iconographical vocabularies are used as a trend in European decoration.

"History of Arab Art" Demystifies Western View that Arabs didn't have a Visual Tradition

Muqarns Ceiling

Topping the list is the so-called Pseudo-Arabic inscriptions, found in many churches in southern Italy, Sicily, Greece and other locations, and prevailed in the paintings of major Italian artists: Fabriano, Bellini, Masaccio, Duccio, Giotto, Mantegna, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelica, Donatello and Raphael to name a few.


The author, Dr. Hashim Al-Tawil is a professor and chair of the Art History Department at Henry Ford College, Dearborn, Michigan where he has been teaching since 2000. A Fulbright Senior Scholar––Italy 2007, and a senior Fellow––France 2011, he has served on many educational and academic boards, including the Fulbright Board of Directors, Michigan chapter. Dr. Al-Tawil teaches and researches in the history of art and culture of the Arab world, as well as the medieval and Islamic visual traditions. As a trained visual artist, he incorporates Arab visual contextual materials in his artworks. He received his education: (BFA) from the University of Baghdad1973, MA from the University of Hartford in 1978, and his Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Iowa 1993.

 History of Arab Art is lavishly illustrated and supplied with bibliographical references, a glossary of terms, and index. This publication is an indispensable source for libraries, educational institutions, and general readers. It is available at: