The Crusades and the Development of Islamic Art

The Crusades and the Development of Islamic Art

By Oleg Grabar

The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh (Dumbarton Oaks, 2001)

Introduction: Among the numerous catchy but arrogant as well as intellectually dubious aphorisms attributed to great men is Napoleon’s statement “l’intendance suivra.” The idea is, I guess, that, once a brave and well-led army has moved forward conquering territories and defeating enemies, the paraphernalia of practical institutions and needs required to make an army function and to lead it to other successes or, alternately, to keep conquered territories under control, this practical and necessary context of a significant event follows automatically.

Historians of art and of anything else have followed this Napoleonic adage in assuming that major events affect culture and the arts.It is, so the assumption goes, legitimate to argue that the French orRussian revolutions, Alexander the Great’s conquests in western Asia, the Mongol invasions, the appearance of Islam, the spread of Buddhism, and other such momentous episodes in the history of mankind had an impact on the arts or modified existing ways of doing or seeing things in some significant manner.Such impacts or modifications can be the culmination or expression of internal, culture-bound, seeds which would be shaken into revolutionary novelty because of an event, as with constructivism in twentieth century Russia, the evolution of David and the formation of Ingres in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century France, or the merging of Hellenistic with Roman sculpture.Or else these novelties can be attributed to the sudden appearance of the new and foreign element, like the art of sculpture in India, apparently revolutionized by Hellenistic models, floral ornament introduced into Chinese art by the spread of Buddhism, or French painting and architecture transformed by the invasion of Italy in the last years of the fifteenth century.

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