AGSA's historical Islamic art collection is strengthened with this acquisition of Moroccan doors
A major achievement in the continuing development of the Art Gallery’s collection of historical Islamic art is the recent acquisition of Pair of doors with geometrical design from Morocco, the western region of the Islamic world known as the Maghreb, or ‘the place where the sun sets’. The long history of the religion in the Maghreb imparts a special significance to Moroccan art, in that it is representative of the ancient heritage of Islamic aesthetics. Northern Africa was among the first lands outside Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to embrace Islam, and this occurred, by means of trade networks, within decades of the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 CE.
The artist’s delight in the potentially infinite variety of patterns available with geometrically based configurations is said to be a definitive feature of Islamic aesthetics. This style of abstract design is nowadays widely interpreted as alluding to the theological concept of tawhid, meaning the absolute Oneness of Allah, the idea being that such mathematically derived patterns are representative of infinite extension in all directions in space. Thus they allude to the eternal indivisibility of the Divine. The popularity of this form of abstract art is also often attributed to the influence of orthodox Muslim tradition, which is said to prohibit figurative representations. Nevertheless, the origin of the geometrical aesthetic more likely dates back to the fascination of early Muslim scholars with the ancient Greek heritage of mathematics.
The carved motifs and the distinct colour scheme of the Pair of doors are typical of the Moorish style of art as it evolved across the centuries in Morocco. The floral rosettes included in the overall geometrical patterns enhance the affable appearance of the Pair of doors, making them suitable for a domestic setting, since flowers evoke felicitous associations in Islam. As in many other premodern cultures, entrance ways in the Muslim world are viewed as a threshold zone and thus susceptible to malign influences; hence, the important presence of talismanic symbols. Here the geometric patterns may be linked to ancient Middle Eastern notions of magical knotting, as suggested in the ‘Dawn’ chapter (113) in the Qur’an.
James Bennett is Curator of Asian Art at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 34.