Mosaics, Manuscripts and Wall Painting in Islamic Art

Key information

Module not running
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

Within the context of major theoretical issues concerning the visual arts, the course investigates representational art, in particular painting, from the Islamic lands. Beginning with the great mosaic cycles, it proceeds to wall paintings, book and Qur'anic illumination, and manuscript painting, both Arab and Persian, from the 7th century down to the 14th. For mosaics and wall painting the relationship with the architecture they decorate will be investigated, and both classical and oriental sources will be examined. Manuscript painting will be related to the texts it illustrates and the connection between the various uses of script in all media will be considered. The interesting topic of the links between manuscript illustrations and wall painting will be analysed and debated.

The course includes visits to London Museum collections, such as those of the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Asiatic Society Library, as well as the permanent collection of the Brunei Gallery.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • have an understanding of the complexities surrounding representational art in Islam;
  • have a knowledge of the main aspects of painting produced in the Islamic lands during the pre-modern period and be able to identify relevant objects, assigning them accurately to their time and place;
  • will have developed further skills in critical reading and well-structured essay-writing.
  • discuss specific points related to the course, individually and in groups, a skill that they will develop through formative, informal assessment (see below).


  • 2 hours per week

Method of assessment

  • One 1,500-word essay (worth 30%)
  • One 500-word focused object or theme analysis/interpretation (worth 10%)
  • One two-hour exam (worth 60%)

Suggested reading

  • Ali, Nadia and Guidetti, Mattia, “Umayyad Palace Iconography: on the Practical Aspects of Artistic Creation”, in: George, Alain and Marsham, Andrew (eds.), The Umayyads: History, Art and Culture in the First Century of Islam . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp.175-254.
  • Andaloro, Maria (ed.), Nobiles Officinae. Perle, filigrane e trame di seta dal Palazzo Reale di Palermo , 2 vols, Palermo: Giuseppe Maimonide Editore, 2006.
    (with translation in English on vol. 2).
  • Baker, Colin, Qur'an Manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design , London: British Library, 2007.
  • Carboni, Stefano, The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting. A Study of the Ilkhanid London Qazvīnī , Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
  • Contadini, Anna, “The Manuscript as a Whole”, in Anna Contadini (ed.), Text and Image in Arabic Illustrated Manuscripts , Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2007 & 2010, pp. 1-17.
  • Echevarría, Ana, “Painting Politics in the Alhambra”, in: Robinson, Cynthia and Pinet, Simone (eds.): Courting the Alhambra. Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Hall of Justice Ceilings . Número especial de Medieval Encounters, vol. 14, nº 2-3, 2008, pp. 199-218.
  • Flood, B., The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture , Boston: Brill, 2000.
  • Hoffman, E. R. “Between East and West: The Wall Paintings of Samarra and the Construction of Abbasid Princely Culture”, Muqarnas , vol. 25, 2008, pp. 107-132
  • Raby, Julian and Johns, Jeremy (eds), Bayt al-Maqdis - Abd al-Malik’s Jerusalem , Oxford Studies in Islamic Art, IX, 1992.
  • Grube, E.J.  (ed.), A Mirror for Princes from India . Bombay, Marg Publications, 1991.
  • Milwright, M., The Dome of the Rock and its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions , Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules