Islamic art - the most expensive Arabic and Islamic paintings
Getting to the bottom of Islamic Art through the eye of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
25 July '19
Most expensive abstract art

by Alina Livneva

25 July '19

Islamic art - the most expensive Arabic and Islamic paintings

Getting to the bottom of Islamic Art through the eye of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the seventh century onward by both Muslims and non-Muslims who lived within the territory that was inhabited by or ruled by, culturally Islamic populations. It is thus a complicated art to define because it spans some 1400 years, covering many lands and populations. This art is also not of a specific religion, time, place, or single medium. Instead, Islamic art covers a range of artistic fields including architecture, calligraphy, painting, glass, ceramics, and textiles, among others.

Islamic art is not restricted to religious art, but instead includes all of the art of the rich and varied cultures of Islamic societies. It frequently includes secular elements and elements that are forbidden by some Islamic theologians. Islamic religious art differs significantly from Christian religious art traditions.

Because figural representations are generally considered to be forbidden in Islam, the word takes on religious meaning in art as seen in the tradition of calligraphic inscriptions. Calligraphy and the decoration of manuscript Qurans is an essential aspect of Islamic art as the word takes on religious and artistic significance.

Islamic art was influenced by Greek, Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine art styles, as well as the Sassanian art of pre-Islamic Persia. Central Asian styles were brought in with various nomadic incursions; and Chinese influences had a formative effect on Islamic painting, pottery, and textiles.

The ability to sell a painting for millions of dollars is not as easy as it looks, hence the overwhelming amount of "starving artists."

To date, the most expensive abstract oil paintings ever sold is an abstract landscape by Willem de Kooning called Interchange, which sold for $300 Million in 2015. Long gone artists seem to be able to sell their paintings for so much more than any living artist, yet Arab paintings have been pushing their way into the art market and growing in popularity over the past decade. Here are nine of the most expensive abstract art to ever be sold:

Islamic most expensive abstract art

1. Zainab bint Muhammad

Zainab bint Muhammad expensive abstract oil paintings
Zainab bint Muhammad (2017) Islamic art

Zainab bint Muhammad is the most expensive painting by British artist Gheorghe Virtosu, sold for $17.8 million.

Although Virtosu is legendary for his almost spiritual obsession with abstraction, the meaning behind his work is, in fact, the very root of the philosophy that he nurtures and solidifies in his entire artistic career. His art-making culminate in his masterful abstract paintings series of Prophet Muhammad Daughters, including the unmatched Zainab bint Muhammad (2017).

In secular art of the Muslim world, representations of human forms historically flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures, figures in paintings were often stylized, giving rise to a variety of decorative figural designs.

However, as the art of Gheorghe Virtosu proves, the language of abstract art can reveal even deeper, sacred meanings of a subject by seeking to capture not its appearance, but its essence. In that fusion of the smooth forms, one can easily recognize an angel-like, winged creature, which hints at the specific spiritual status of the personage.

2. Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life

Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life painting Islamic art
Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life (1962) Islamic art

This painting from 1962 by Turkish-Jordanian artist Princess Fahr El-Nissa Zeid, sold for a record-breaking $2.74 million.

In Fahr El-Nissa's expansive and prolific oeuvre, Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life can be considered to be one of the most important works that the artist has ever created.

Painted in 1962, the large expansive and hypnotizing canvas reflects Zeid's distinctive style of geometric abstraction, grounded in a rhythmic gesture. Upon reflection of the painting, the viewer is transported into an alternate magical universe conjured up by the artist, the color palette and shapes moving together in a distinct harmony as if meant to push one into a trancelike state.

The relevance of this work resonates in an increased language of the globalization of today, cementing Zeid as an important figure in international art history and cultural discourse.

3. The Whirling Dervishes

The Whirling Dervishes painting Islamic art
The Whirling Dervishes (1929) Islamic art

It was sold for an astounding $2.54 million at Christie’s auction house in 2010.

The second most expensive Arab painting is labeled “The Whirling Dervishes” and was painted in 1929 by Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said.

Mahmoud Said was a central figure in modern Egyptian art, born in Alexandria. He is called the “father of modern Egyptian art.” He abandoned his career as a court judge when he turned fifty to dedicate himself to his art full-time. His paintings are much sought after by collectors. A museum dedicated to his art has opened in Alexandria.

The subject of this painting is the ecstatic whirling of the Sufis or dervishes of the Mawlawi (Mevlevi in Turkish) order that follows the teachings of Jalal al-Din Rumi.

4. Les Chadoufs

Les Chadoufs painting Islamic art
Les Chadoufs (1934) Islamic art

Also by artist Mahmoud Said, the painting Les Chadoufs from 1934 was sold at auction for $2.43million, exceeding its pre-sale estimated price of $150,000 - $200,000 by a mile.

To complement this powerful classical geometry, Said introduces a timeless and distinctly Egyptian iconography, which includes veiled statuesque women carrying water jars, men drawing water from wells, and white long-eared donkeys. The men, dressed only in turbans and loincloths, with their exaggerated postures, minimal clothing, and frieze-like distribution of across the canvas, closely resemble the gigantic male figures carved in low relief on the outer pylons of Upper Egyptian temples.

Les Chadoufs is one of Mahmoud Said's finest paintings, exceptional both in its carefully studied geometry and in its iconography.

Its controlled and coherent design recalls principles of the Italian Renaissance, while its iconography evokes prototypes from key periods in Egypt's long history.

5. Tchaar-Bagh

Tchaar-Bagh painting
Tchaar-Bagh (1981) Islamic art

Painted in 1981 by Iranian painter and sculptor Charles-Hossein Zenderoudi, Tchaar-Bagh was sold for around $1.6 million at Christie’s 2008 international auction in Dubai.

It is now nearly half a century that Zenderoudi, the Iranian artist residing in France, considered as one of the ten living important contemporary artists by the editorial board of the French journal Connaissance des Art (1971) and one of the most esteemed founders of Saqakhaneh School.

Zenderoudi arrived in Paris at the end of the widespread infatuation with gestural calligraphy.

He was able to ascertain for himself the signifying limits of the traced in writing and to boost his crucial intuition of visual distance through the trace.

6. He Is The Merciful

He Is The Merciful painting
He Is The Merciful (2007) Islamic art

A relatively new painting from 2007 made by Iranian artist Mohammed Ehsai, “He Is The Merciful” was sold only a year later for around $1.16 million, although it was originally estimated to sell for about $100,000 - $150,000.

This spectacular painting is one of the largest works by Mohammed Ehsan. Trained first as a calligrapher, Ehsai's large scale paintings demonstrate his mastery of the craft. In his works, the intertwined letters are not meant to be read.

Rather, their abstract form, which visualizes the meaning of the text, is to be contemplated by the viewer.

Mohammad Ehsai is undoubtedly one of the most gifted calligraphers to emerge from Iran within the past century. Utterly devoted the perfection of his craft, Ehsai has married the technical finesse of his formal training within a modern visual schema.

7. The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home

The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home painting
The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home (1600) Islamic art

It was sold at auction for approximately $1.14 million and would have sold for even more had it been in better condition.

Dated back to the mid-16th-century, "The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home" is an Islamic painting and illustration found in "Hamzanama" (The Adventures of Hamza), which is attributed to Daswant (Dasavanta) in collaboration with Shravan (Sharavana) from Mughal, India.

Amir Hamza was an uncle of the Prophet Muhammed and the illustration is one of the few that survived over the years.

Even in a manuscript celebrated for its fantastic adventure stories and dramatic pictorial qualities, this spectacular illustration from the Hamzanama easily ranks among the most boldly conceived paintings to have survived from the original 1,400 monumental paintings in the most important of all Mughal manuscripts.

The creative force behind this dazzling scene is surely Daswant (or Dasavanta), an artist described as the son of a palanquin bearer and recorded by ascriptions as active from the mid-1560s until 1584, when he committed suicide, a fate unique in the annals of Mughal painting.

8. Sarajevo

Sarajevo painting
Sarajevo (1992) Islamic art

Painted in 1992 and sold for $1.14 million in 2016 at the Now and Ten auctions in Dubai.

Sarajevo by artist Omar El-Nagdi mirroring the horrors of war for Bosnians similar to Picasso’s iconic Guernica. The painting “Sarajevo” by contemporary Egyptian artist Omar El-Nagdi captures the essence of pain and is deemed "the most expressive documentation of life" by Middle Eastern Art specialist Masa Al-Kutoubi.

Although El-Nagdi is generally known for his colorful folkloric depictions of daily life, Sarajevo demonstrates his ability to capture the essence of pain.

Painted in 1992, the Sarajevo triptych is undeniably his most important and ambitious piece.

As the title suggests, the work takes as its subject the tragedies that befell the city during the Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian conflict of 1990–94, particularly the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Bosnian and Croat population by Bosnian Serbs.

9. Construction of the Suez Canal

Construction of the Suez Canal painting
Construction of the Suez Canal (1965) Islamic art

The painting cost its buyer $1.02 million in March of 2014.

El-Gazzar has become one of the most iconic Egyptian artists to have lived since 1945. His legacy has left behind a national artistic wealth that has only recently been acknowledged and appreciated.

He developed a unique and powerful style that combines derivations from fantasy, strong awareness of his environment and social-political statements that are infused with philosophy and symbolism.

Digging of the Suez Canal from 1965 is a study for perhaps one of the most monumental and referenced works ever to have been painted by the artist, that is now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo.

A testament to his ability to impart a sense of the socio-political statement, even into a work commissioned by the very regime he questioned, Digging of the Suez Canal is undoubtedly a seminal work in the artist's oeuvre and both Egyptian artistic and social history. Here we close our most expensive abstract oil paintings list and continue with some insights on Islamic Art.

Getting the bottom of Islamic Art through Metropolitan Museum of Art eye

When dealing with the cultures of the lands that stuck to Islam over time. It starts with apprehending their differences, much more significant than those that different European countries. On the museum scene, the meaningless label "Islamic art" adheres to functions visually and conceptually unrelated.

Five most prominent institutions of its type, the newly opened "Islamic division" unwittingly illustrates the confusion.

They won't see panels from 15th-century Germany hanging together with images in the Florentine Quattrocento on the excuse they're Christian. And Chinese scrolls won't be thrown together with a few from Japan or Korea based on common Buddhist themes. The arts of Japan and Korea, China, whether Buddhist or Confucianist, are considered from the perspective of the history of the civilizations, sparing viewers any aesthetic inconsistency. Inconsistency is not a concern. Never mind that their histories clarify the highly distinctive nature of the artwork of every broad cultural location. Historical Iran, broken up To the modern countries of Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, and pieces here and there, stocks with China the privilege of being among the two oldest civilizations on earth with an uninterrupted continuity on its own land.

In The Arab Near East lands such as Syria and Iraq have age-old pasts. But they largely rejected it, compared to Iran. This is true of Egypt, whose ancient civilization left few traces on its collective character from the Islamic period.

Turkey, at first, a mere expansion of the Seljuk sultanate of Iran at the Persian was the language of administration and culture well into the 14th century, and influences from the multiple cultures of lands that had been under Byzantine control penetrated its art. The artwork of Turkey as represented now in Western museums mostly dates from the early 16th century to the late 17th.

Add to the mixture the equally complicated history of the Persianate Islamic Civilization first introduced to India by invaders coming from historical Iran in the 11th century, led by rulers of Turkic stock. The most recent one of the Türki-speaking founders of a dynasty in India rushed in from Central Asia where Persian culture prevailed, preserved Persian at their courts and brought tens of thousands of Iranian literati.

Interaction with ancient Indian civilization resulted in a Special art into Which some strands of European influence crept in, especially in publication painting on which Western religious engravings, brought by European missionaries into the court of Akbar, affected.

Mix all the above and you also get a brew that's enough to disorient the visitor.

In the sections dealing with the early phases -- when Islam spread at a Slows - wall vitrines are full of bronzes, ceramics, and the pieces of rock crystal and ivory from the Arab and the Iranian world in more or less equal measure.

The juxtaposition, naturally determined by what can be found in the Museum's collections, causes a confusing if dazzling blur.

Labeling adds to the confusion and there. Ceramic vessels of the ninth century with blue themes on the ivory floor, ascribed to Iraq from the screen, have been coming up on the art market as the early 20th century.

By contrast, many such products are excavated by archeologists from Khorasan from the northeast to Susa in southwest Iran. They far outweigh the signs of shards awakened in Samarra, a short-lived ninth-century caliphal capital where other broken remains of a myriad of functions, brought in from several regions out, have turned up. The Met's bits, purchased on the Western market, likely came from Iran. Until proved otherwise, this is the possible provenance that needs to be mentioned on the labels.

The Ghaznavids owe their name to their funds Ghazni, 120 km or 80 miles south of Kabul, which was the capital of Persian letters from the 11th century. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery elegantly solves the puzzle by using the phrase"historical Iran." Elsewhere, historical denominations crop up in the Met's labels. The title"Jazira" appears in connection with some of the fabulous silver-inlaid brass wares from the Arab world, made in the decades after the Mongol invasion of Iran. Jazira included cities like Diyarbakir and Mardin from the southeastern Kurdish area of modern Turkey. A warning to this effect could be judicious.

Some of the most important Arab bronze products grow broader and Fascinating questions which have yet to be answered.

A small cylindrical box Known as a"pyxis," now stripped of the Inlay that would have been incised with fine detail, is given to"mid-13th-century Syria" from the tag as in the joint publication"Masterpieces From the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." It's decorated with Christian scenes, as are several other highly complex Arab bronzes of the 13th century. Syria? Possibly. Jazira? Equally possible.

Intriguing is that the European-like managing of a female standing beneath one of the arches and of the small guy (Joseph?) This isn't discussed. Much research remains to be done before we could put this kind of object for sure. Labels curiously change to the hypothetical model. Bowl of this mid-13th century with enameled and gilt scenes alternating with calligraphic cartouches on the side, is apparently, rather than"likely" from Syria. Charles Schéfer, the French historian of Persian literature, who composed the "Chrestomathie Persane," purchased the bowl in Damascus, which will be said, and the profile of the bowl happens in Syrian ceramics, which isn't mentioned. It's no accident that both enormous successes in the new"Islamic" Galleries are the chambers respectively dealing with the art of Safavid Iran as well as the Moghul empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. Aesthetic consistency reveals the inherent harmonics of any artwork, and the commendable display does justice to admirable works.

Both create the fit-all "Islamic" tag more inept than ever. Pages ripped the text composed by Ferdowsi from the 10th century filled with ideas predating Islam, and the 16th-century paintings can't be understood without referring to the metaphors of Persian literature, they transcribe.

Lifted in the Bibles which Portuguese missionaries brought into the court of emperor Akbar. Some others were torn from the manuscripts of Hindu Texts translations to Persian commissioned by Akbar for the benefit of a courtroom where all knew Persian, while few understood Sanskrit.

This makes one wonder exactly where the Western definition of Islamic art stops.

About author Alina Livneva was born 1985 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She studied at Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts. Educated in Russia and the United States. Lives in Miami. Has also lived in Russia. Contemporary Art. Collections expert, exhibitions and loans. E:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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