Mosque Lamp, early 14th century
Islamic Gallery
Gallery 24, Ground Floor


Islamic Design
The type of decoration used in Islamic art falls into four main categories: calligraphy, geometric patterns, arabesques and figural designs. Throughout the religion’s history, calligraphy has been the main method of disseminating the message of Islam and it is for this reason that it is among the most venerated of art forms. The arabesque scroll pattern is derived from a classical scroll design and has come to be seen as one of Islam’s most distinctive motifs. Although the worship of idols is prohibited in Islam, the representation of humans and animals is permitted in certain contexts, although not in the decoration of religious buildings or of the Quran.


The art of glassmaking originated in Syria and it was here that much of the best Roman glass was created. The masterful production of blown, moulded and cut glass objects continued in the region during Islamic times. In addition, the making of enamelled glassware, a technique in its infancy in Roman times, attained new brilliance under Islamic patronage. This technique was employed to decorate distinctively shaped lamps such as this one as well as tall, narrow beakers and long-necked bottles. On close inspection of this lamp, however, flaws can be seen: air-bubbles and grit are visible within the glass and it also has a round patch in one side. Syrian glass-houses where this type of glass was produced were destroyed in about 1400 by Timur (Mongol leader, c.1370-1405). This coincided with the rise of Venice as the most important glass-making centre in Europe and, by the mid 16th century, Venice was exporting mosque lamps to Syria.