The high point of Islam in the Middle Kingdom was during the Ming era from 1368-1644, when Muslims acquired unprecedented political influence, although Islam had first come to China many centuries earlier. This gradual meeting of the world’s two greatest powers produced a far-reaching interchange of culture and technology.
Paper was naturally an important element in the making of a manuscript and was introduced to the Islamic world from China in the mid-eighth century. The art of calligraphy has always been a revered art form in China. This coincides with the Islamic ideal, although the results are often very different from the calligraphic works of other parts of Islam. The Chinese approach consists of short, fluid strokes, which are best rendered by a brush. Islamic calligraphy on the other hand, finds a reed pen better suited for cursive script, rhomboid shapes and characters with more curves and longer angular shapes. Chinese Qur’ans is traditionally divided into 30 sections, each one in its own volume.
Ceramic wares produced in China were greatly coveted elsewhere, from the three-coloured wares of the Tang dynasty named after the bright yellow, green and white glazes, to celadons with a subtle bluish-green glaze. Blue and white porcelain was to become the most popular ceramic ware from China, with the design of Islamic patterns incorporated into these wares for export.
Scrolls are in keeping with the Chinese tradition of brushwork, and the combination of Islamic and Chinese artistry often produced fascinating masterpieces. Symbolism and images of these scrolls often show the indigenous roots of Chinese art. Fruit and flowers, such as peaches, lotus and orange blossoms, are uniquely Chinese, while other more conventional Islamic design includes images of the Prophet Muhammad’s sword.
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