Music inspired artists to depict musicians and dancers on various objects

Ivory frame (likely for a book cover) with Princely cycle imagery. Relief carvings, ivory. Fatimid (Egpyt) 11th century. (Image via Studyblue)
Ivory frame (likely for a book cover) with Princely cycle imagery. Relief carvings, ivory. Fatimid (Egpyt) 11th century. (Image via Studyblue)

Music has inspired Islamic artists to depict musicians and dancers in all media. Dancers are featured on the walls of the eight-century palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar in Jordan and on the sides of early Islamic silver bottles from Iran. Musicians adorn a tenth-century ivory perfume bottle from Islamic Spain as well as in an eleventh-century Fatimid ivory plaque. Whenever princes, kings, and other notables held gatherings, musicians played various instruments and sang at these events.

Carved Ivory Plaque with Drummer Fatimid Egypt, 11th-12th Century. (Image via Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy)
Carved Ivory Plaque with Drummer Fatimid Egypt, 11th-12th Century. (Image via Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy)
Illustration from Kitab al-aghani (Book of Songs), 1216-20, by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, a collection of songs by famous musicians and Persian poets (Source=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Kitab_al-aghani.jpg )
Illustration from Kitab al-aghani (Book of Songs), 1216-20, by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, a collection of songs by famous musicians and Persian poets (Source=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Kitab_al-aghani.jpg)

Musicians in the Islamic world played a variety of instruments including stringed instruments such as plucked and bowed lutes and harps as well as drums, tambourines, horns, and pipes. A tenth-century Arab treatise on music theory classifies the instruments according the highest status to those that most closely resemble the human voice. Both men and women played musical instruments, sang, and danced.

From the eighth to the eleventh century, authors gathered collections of popular songs, the best known being the Book of Songs (Kitab al-Aghani) of al-Isfahani (d. 967). The terminology of the treatises reveals a sophisticated understanding of distinctions in vocal and instrumental techniques.

Music inspired artists - Sama (listening) - Sufi dance performed as Dhikr (remembrance)
Sama (listening) – Sufi dance performed as Dhikr (remembrance) (Image via Pinterest)

Another form of music applies specifically to the Sufi mystics. This music, called sama, meaning ‘hearing’ or ‘that which is heard,’ implies the hearing of music which can produce an ecstatic state in the mystical listener. The sama expanded from singing of the ayats of the Qur’an, prayers, and poetry in praise of God and Prophet Muhammad to include dancing. The sama is often performed in context of dhikr – the repetition of words or phrases to induce concentration on God.

 

In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the “The Mevlevi Sama Ceremony” of Turkey as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.[1]

 

Reference:

Sheila R. Canby, Islamic Art in Detail, Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 2005

1. Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – The Mevlevi Sama Ceremony, UNESCO

Research by Nimira Dewji


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