The Art in Architecture in Islamic and European Culture

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Architecture was always present with astounding works of sculpted and painted art, before the early 20th century, often portraying complex concepts and cultural beliefs. Specific cultural ideas and allegories were symbolised a lot through painted art and sculpted art, while styles of architecture changed and developed through different time periods. Throughout this essay, the terms didactic, symbolic and semiotic purposes of art in architecture, will be explored, during and around the early and medieval Islamic period (dated from 650 AD to 1492 AD) and demonstrate how the art from those periods had an impact on various eras subsequently, and if eras previously had an impact on the Islamic period before the 1900s. Islamic art attempts to characterize the different styles which arose at various times and places. Despite the contrasting style of medieval stained-glass windows in comparison to sculpted art and painted art, this essay will address the significance of medieval gothic art (between 5th to 15th century AD) and its religious connotations as well.

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Animal and figurative representation can be observed throughout various types of Islamic art and into their architecture with independent motifs. A majority of the motifs drawn from nature were produced in an exclusively decorative manner, and not with an allegorical or symbolic meaning behind them. This was due to the prohibition of depictions of living creatures, which were carefully avoided in all places of worship. An example of this is the façade of Mshatta in the Umayyad residential palace of Qasr, where there are carvings of animal figures between vines or in scrolls on the left of the facade, and the right side, which was created at a later date, only has plant scrolls, due to the fact that the patron disliked the representation of animate beings due to religious reasons, and insisted that the motif be changed.

In terms of architecture, the medieval gothic era was a time of religious innovation and new concepts. Throughout the medieval period, art mainly focused on the architectural design and construction of monasteries, castles, churches, and similar ecclesiastical structures. Medieval art illustrates the deep, avid interest and idealistic expressions of the Christian faith and their philosophies, and this was shown in the architectural designs and décor during this period. Medieval Gothic stained-glass windows were very symbolic within the Christian religion. The Medieval artisan added metallic salts and oxides to molten glass in order to make stained glass. They are significantly used throughout ecclesiastical buildings, which relate to the Christian Church. The use of stained-glass windows is traced all the way back to the mid-12th century, Abbot Suger a French religious leader wanted to make an architectural and religious statement in the church. Suger believed that by filling the walls of the church with stained glass it allows for light to pour through the building as a way to symbolise God’s presence. Other than scholars, religious people etcetera, during the Middle Ages most individuals were unable to read or write adequately, due to this, stained glass windows were very important for them to be able to understand their religion.

The congregation was able to see philosophies, stories, and symbols of Christianity in picture form, before their eyes. For instance, the geometrically spiral designed north rose window at Chartres Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, in France) is thought to integrate knowledge of the Golden Mean, containing a variety of Pagan and Christian imagery representing beasts, plants, and people. As well as this, an allegorical representation of religious philosophies and stories from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were represented. An example of an iconic Medieval Gothic stained-glass windows, being used in an ecclesiastical building is at Lincoln Cathedral. This place of worship has a huge rose window filled with stained glass at both the north and south transepts. The north transept window is called the Dean’s Eye, and the window is facing it at the south transept is called the Bishop’s Eye, the newer of the two. The Deans Eye seems as if the stone has been cut open to fit the glass, this is called plate tracery; the Bishop’s Eye shows a kind of tracery called bar tracery, where there is a sense of stained glass window being held up by thin ribs, instead of puncturing the stone to allow light to come through. The light of the Bishop’s Eye and the Dean’s Eye is a spiritual light, lux spiritualis, and is supposed to be referred to as “a manifestation of God” according to previous religious texts, as well as sharing similar semiotic importance to the Chartres Cathedral. Peter of Roissy, Chancellor of the School of Chartres, wrote that “the painting on the windows are divine writings, for the direct light of the true sun, that is to say, God, into the interior of the Church, that is to say, the hearts of the faithful, thus illuminating them.”, showing that visible light became a direct symbol of lux spiritualis.

The origins of stained-glass windows are not specific, but it is assumed that ancient Egyptians were the first people to discover glass while making their vessels, with the oldest example dating from around 2700 BC, of Egyptian coloured glass beads. There are also traces of Romans using stained glass windows in their homes during the first century AD as decorative purposes, however, during the Medieval period, the use of stained glass windows had excelled, reaching a peak during the 12th to 15th century; references from the 7th century show stained glass windows were being used in England and had become a sophisticated art form by the 12th century (the Medieval Gothic period). This shows that stained glass windows were a genuine innovation during the Medieval period, in order to convey cultural inheritances and complex ideas, usually about the Bible and Christian teachings, primarily because to the fact that it was just easier to communicate these philosophies to the people using this method as during that period many people were unable to read and write as they were illiterate. Based on the discussed examples, it is evident that in historical artwork there is a strong relationship between art, religion, and cultural beliefs and that allegory and symbolism is rooted in architecture before the 20th century.

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