Postgraduate Diploma Course in Islamic Aesthetics| Postgraduate Certificate Course in Islamic Aesthetics

Islamic Aesthetics

Say: He is God, the One and Only;
God, the Eternal, and Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.

This sura, “Purity of Faith,” forms the touchstone of Islam’s monotheism and distinguishes it from other Abrahamic religions. The One God is both sublimely simple and endlessly complex, intimately as close as breath and, at the same time, immeasurably distant. Muhammad is Allah’s messenger and the definitive Word, the Qur’an, was given to him to teach the way of righteousness

The hadith, “God is Beauty and loves that which is beautiful,” led to the creation of a language of Islamic art that is luminescent, dancing with divine splendour. Making art is an act of devotion wherein the artist is sanctified and viewers are blessed through their experiences with the beauty of the creation.

Islamic Aesthetics addresses the endless inventiveness of the peoples who profess this faith, from lands stretching across the Atlantic to India and the borders of China and Southeast Asia today. The course privileges the tenets and themes that developed in a very short period, rather than a reduced, linear study across space and time, resulting in radically changed but synthesised forms. It examines the “language of culture” to contextualize both the form and content of Islamic aesthetics.

The Qur’an is the source of all inspiration and although it has no direct commentary on art or its processes, the rhythmic repetition of the names of an abstraction, Allah, cultivates ecstasy as the text streams in an uninterrupted flow. Evidenced in abstract ornamentation, perhaps the most important domain of Islamic aesthetics and the most characteristic artistic genre, calligraphy, plant-based arabesque, and geometric forms contain artistic references to and reminders of the Divine Being.

The course weaves these elements not only through examples of the innumerable copies of the Qur’an, painstakingly produced by masters as acts of piety, but also through religious and secular architecture, manuscripts, and objects of everyday use. Scholars discuss architectural archetypes of the mosque, oriented towards the pivot of Islam, the Ka’ba, covered “like a bride” with the kiswa or silken veil; the palace, emblem of courtly splendour, political power, and patronage; the mausoleum with its attendant mihrab, lamp and screen; and, the madrasa where orthodox Islamic sciences are taught. Manuscripts range from kingly biographies to illustrated and illuminated poetry and are understood in the context of the injunction against figural representation as well as iconoclasm. Moreover the art of everyday life, whether in the form of metal ware, ceramics, rock crystal, glass, carpets or textiles become exemplars of “otherworldliness” as well as provide the subject matter of the study of patronage, trade and marketplace.

The mystical realm of Sufism, its variants and practice, is an important corner stone in the study of Islamic Aesthetics. Tracking the histories of the “unruly friends of God” and the itinerant dervishes through poetry and painted manuscripts brings into sharp focus the reception of this unorthodox stream.

Last but not the least is the centrality of Gardens and Paradise, both called djanna in Arabic. Described in fecund images of streams, rivers, fountains and lakes with variegated and breath-taking flora, earthly gardens occupy an important place in Islamic aesthetics, reflecting the heavenly ones. These manifestations of faith and an environmental quest of radiant magnificence are examples of a sophisticated urbanism, a far cry from the nomadic beginnings of Islam.

The course thus endeavors to navigate between the two fundamental ideas of Islamic art and aesthetics – first, that all art forms provide aesthetic possibilities of referring to God’s Being as the very essence of beauty and indescribably sublime; and second, that of Paradise to come, created for the just to inhabit, a place of peace and plenitude suggested in all creativity.





6:30 – 8:30 pm


Image: Habib al-siyar (Beloved of virtues) by Muhammad Khwandamir (died ca. 1533-37).Date created: ca.1590-1600.Purchase--Smithsonian Unrestricted Trust Funds, Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program, and Dr. Arthur M. Sackler Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

This seminar presents a historical overview of three phases of Safavidhistory in the cities of Tabriz, Qazvin, and Isfahan, associated with Shah Isma‘il, Shah Tahmasb, and Shah ‘Abbas, respectively.  The presentations will focus on religious and social developments in the 16th-17th centuries, and include the role of ghulams, Armenians, Georgians, and other religious and social communities.  Emphasis will be placed on historical chronicles, one of the most important categories of primary sources for the Safavid period.

Day 1 : Tabriz and Shah Isma‘il: The Sufi Who Became King
Day 2 : Qazvin and Shah Tahmasb: The Safavid State Takes Shape
Day 3 : Isfahan and Shah ‘Abbas: Narrating Half the World

January 6, 7, 8, 2020

6:30 - 8:30 PM


Rs. 3,000

Registrations Closed


Image: Isfahan, Masjid-i Shah (currently known as the Imam Mosque), view into the prayer hall, 1611-1638. (photo credit Daniel C. Waugh)

These lectures explore the making of a newly configured Shi’i empire through architectural campaigns in capital cities of Tabriz, Qazvin and Isfahan, and the pilgrimage cities of Ardabil and Mashhad. Urban development projects, initiated by royal decree or by individual investments of the new elites—viziers, physicians, Perso-Indian and Armenian merchants; the role of Shi’ism in developing imperial legitimacy for Friday prayer and thus for congregational mosques; Shi’i shrine complexes; royal palaces, gardens, and mansions of the elite; these topics offer views into the social and aesthetic dimensions of Safavid architecture.

Day 1 : Tabriz and Ardabil: Inherited Traditions and Invented Empire
Day 2 : Qazvin: A New Beginning Under Shah Tahmasb
Day 3 : Isfahan: The Jewel in the Safavid Crown

January 9, 10, 11, 2020

6:30 - 8:30 PM


Rs. 3,000

Registrations Closed


Image: Feridun Strikes Zahhak with the Ox-Headed Mace. Folio from the Shahnama (Book of kings). Iran, Tabriz, ca. 1525. Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper. Freer Gallery of Art F1996.2 

The lectures will examine Safavid visual culture, in particular the arts of book, in Tabriz, Qazvin, Isfahan, and Mashhad during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will focus on some of the outstanding illustrated literary texts, illuminated Qur’ans, and albums (murqqa’) as well as related objects. The aim is to offer an overview of Safavid artistic production and its patronage and place it in a broader historical and cultural context. Particular attention will be devoted to the rise of a new class of patrons outside the court and their role in the formation of a Safavid aesthetic and its dissemination.

Day 1 : Tabriz and Ardabil: Production of Safavid Royal Manuscripts
Day 2 : Qazvin and Shiraz: Arrival of the Millennium
Day 3 : Isfahan and Mashhad: Towards a New Aesthetics

January 13, 14, 15, 2020

6:30 - 8:30 PM


Rs. 3,000

Registrations Closed


Image: “Woman in European Costume,” Shaykh Abbasi, Iran, Safavid period, 1660s, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W 668, f. 18b.

Numerous painters, calligraphers, and architects migrated from Iran and India over the centuries and especially in the sixteenth century. Whether searching for new patrons or escaping personal and professional challenges, these individuals were responsible for introducing new artistic ideals, which were selectively adopted and transformed in Mughal India. In the seventeenth century, however, artistic exchange between Iran and India began to flow in both directions—a topic that has received relatively little scholarly attention. While Mughal painters, and particularly those in the Deccan, drew upon Safavid pictorial traditions, Persian artists became equally fascinated with Indian style and subject matter, which they appropriated to create a new and highly idiosyncratic visual language. This lecture will examine the relationship of Safavid, Mughal, and Deccani art in the seventeenth century in a broader historical, cultural and economic context.

January 16, 2020

6:30 - 8:30 PM

Registrations Closed