What is Islamic Illumination?

This morning, I received an email asking me about Islamic illumination and what it is. I realised that I don't have a post explaining it, so I decided to write one to share my limited knowledge on the subject. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

What is Islamic Illumination?
Quran from Afghanistan, Herat. Timurid Period. 1434. Found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art

Quran from Afghanistan, Herat. Timurid Period. 1434. Found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art

The Quran is the main source of Islam. It was recorded using Arabic calligraphy. The first calligrapher is the prophet's cousin and son-in-law Imam Ali Ibn Talib (Nasr, 1987). The writing of the Quran was regarded highly since it was the visual representation of the word of God. From that point, the writing and the presentation of the book became an art.

Later on, "Art of the book" extended to other books such as poetry and story books. Collecting and gifting highly adorned book of that nature became a symbol of status.

"The Art of the Book" contains FOUR areas:

  • Calligraphy
  • Illumination
  • Illustrations (miniature)
  • Binding and other technicality related to book making. 

All four became dedicated disciplines of Islamic Art (Gruber, 2010). In this post, I am only sharing the meaning of Illumination. 

The 'Khamsah' of Niẓāmī 1539-1543 Source

What is Illumination?

It is the art of applying gold 

Illuminating the Quran started when artists added a little gold to decorate the Quran to physically represent the enlightenment that comes from the word of God.  

Islamic illumination is the use of gold to paint geometric and/or biomorphic patterns (organic and floral forms and motifs) to decorate the pages of Quran and books of poetry. Biomorphic patterns have a geometric grid that is usually hidden with the painting and illuminating.

Usually, the cover and the frontal pieces are very elaborate, but the rest of the pages are decorated less. 

References: 

  • Nasr, S. (1987). Islamic art and spirituality. 1st ed. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Gruber, C. (2010). The Islamic manuscript tradition. 1st ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
The 'Khamsah' of Niẓāmī 1539-1543 Source

The 'Khamsah' of Niẓāmī 1539-1543 Source

Islamic Illumination Teachers in London:

Islamic Illumination Teachers in Istanbul:

  • I am sure there are many, but I only know my Turkish teacher Dilara Yarci. I did a 15 hours private class with her and she is wonderful. 

Islamic Illumination Resources: