Divine Inspiration: Seven Principles of Islamic Architecture

27 Nov 2008 – 28 Feb 2009.

 Divine Inspiration; Seven Principles of Islamic Architecture is an exhibition that aims to illustrate the intrinsic relationship between Muslims, their beliefs and how these manifest themselves in everyday architecture. Islam embodies a way of life and serves as a cohesive force amongst ethnically and culturally diverse peoples. There is no essential difference between spiritual and secular art in Islam, allowing the virtues of Islamic architecture to transcend mere form and function.

Through the study of seven key Islamic beliefs a cross section of not only Islamic life and practice will be discussed but also the corresponding architectural principles which range from urban planning to detailed ornamentation. The exhibition begins with the primary Islamic belief Tawhid – the concept of Unity and Oneness of God – from this the structure and components of the Islamic city will be unveiled. As the exhibition progresses, it delves into more architectural detail. For example, Muslims are encouraged to be in a state of Dhikr; Remembrance of God, this is illustrated beautifully in the rhythmic chanting, found in the stuccowork and muqarnas (stalactites) vaults of the Alhambra.

Each of the key beliefs explored; Tawhid (Unity), Ihtiram (Respect), Ikhlas (Sincerity), Iqtisad (Moderation/ Humility), Haya’ (Modesty), ‘Ilm (Pursuit of Knowledge), Dhikr (Remembrance), will contextualise and shed light on the visible and invisible nature of both the Islamic belief discussed and its corresponding architectural principle. Covering examples from across the globe – discussing their cosmic dimensions – this exhibition will highlight the long interrupted tradition of sacred and scientific knowledge that has gained Islamic architecture a well-deserved reputation of outstanding nobility.

The Italian philosopher Umberto Eco once said ‘An aesthetic pleasure arises when the soul finds its own inner harmony duplicated in its object’. This exhibition will demonstrate how that inner harmony is achieved in Islamic architecture, an art form that has consistently retained an intrinsic quality and unique identity, transcending cultural contexts and architectural functions. The physical origins of these characteristics are beautifully illustrated in a series of biomorphic drawings commissioned for the exhibition from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.

The accompanying publication for this exhibition can be purchased at the Museum Shop.