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Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned primarily with the arts, with concepts of natural beauty and the appreciation of nature. Whereas an important body of literature has been written about Classical and medieval European concepts of beauty, relatively little has been composed about the subject in Islamic art, although historians of literature have dealt extensively with aesthetic concepts in their studies of classical Arabic. Arabic was undoubtedly the lingua franca of medieval Islamic literary culture, but different and distinct literatures emerged in regions where Persian and Turkish prevailed, particularly in the period after c. 1250. It seems therefore somewhat naive to imagine that a single aesthetic—however deeply based in the shared heritage of the Koran and Islamic thought—could have pertained throughout Islamic literary—or visual—culture from the shores of the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from the steppes of Central Asia to the Sahel of Africa.

Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1954–)...


Kenneth Bendiner

Art-historical term applied to a category of subject-matter referring to the depiction of the Near East by Western artists, particularly in the 19th century.

Images of the life, history and topography of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and sometimes modern Greece, the Crimea, Albania and the Sudan constitute the field of Orientalism. Although almost any biblical subject in Western art would rank as an Orientalist image by this definition, most such works dating before the 19th century fail to present any specifically Near Eastern details or atmosphere and are not Orientalist. Artists need not have journeyed to the Near East to be labelled Orientalist, but their works must have some suggestion of topographic or ethnographic accuracy.

Orientalism was essentially a 19th-century phenomenon, a facet of Romanticism. However, before Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, Gentile Bellini painted Ottoman subjects, Veronese represented some figures in Turkish costume, ...