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Fresco at Qusayr Amra Hamman (bath-house), an example of Umayyad art from Jordan, 8th century

Jordanian art has a very ancient history. Some of the earliest figurines, found at Aïn Ghazal, near Amman, have been dated to the Neolithic period. A distinct Jordanian aesthetic in art and architecture emerged as part of a broader Islamic art tradition which flourished from the 7th-century. Traditional art and craft is vested in material culture including mosaics, ceramics, weaving, silver work, music, glass-blowing and calligraphy. The rise of colonialism in North Africa and the Middle East, led to a dilution of traditional aesthetics. In the early 20th-century, following the creation of the independent nation of Jordan, a contemporary Jordanian art movement emerged and began to search for a distinctly Jordanian art aesthetic that combined both tradition and contemporary art forms.

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Traditional artEdit

Jordan, as an independent nation was founded in 1924. Prior to that, the area that is now Jordan had been subject to a number of different rules. It was part of the Nabatean Kingdom, under Hellenistic rule following Alexander the Great's conquest of the area; under Roman rule in the 1st century BCE,[1] and was once part of the Umayyad Kingdom in the 7th century (CE) and part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th-century until the end of World War I[2] when it became a British protectorate until the time of independence.[3] Its art is part a broader Islamic artistic tradition, with evidence of classical influences.[4]

Traditional art was often based on material culture including hand-crafts such as rug-making, basket weaving, silver smithing, mosaics, ceramics, and glass-blowing. The Bedouins were largely self-sufficient in the production of goods, and made their own rugs, wove baskets and prepared ceramics. Such works exhibited wide variation in styles, as tribes often used their own tribal motifs.[5]

The Jordanian art historian, Wijdan Ali has argued that the traditional Islamic aesthetic evident in craft-based work was displaced by the arrival of colonialism in North Africa and the Middle East.[6] However, in the decolonised period of the 20th-century, a contemporary art form combining tradition and modern influences can be observed.[7]


Pre-Islamic artEdit

As early as the Neolithic period in Jordan, figurines and sculptures were being made. In some of the earliest examples, human skulls were built up with plaster, and inlays were used for the eye sockets.[8] Two caches of figurines discovered at Aïn Ghazal, near Amman, include animal models and some three dozen monumental figurines (pictured below), which scholars believe were important to the ritual and social structure of the peoples living there,[9] and may have formed part of a burial ritual.[10] The 'Ain Ghazal statues are very large, with some around three feet in height. Aïn Ghazal was occupied between 7,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE and the statues have been dated to around 6,500 BCE.[11] Showing extensive use of plaster,[12] the Aïn Ghazal statues represent a clear departure from the tiny, faceless figures of the Paleolithic period and mark the dawn of a distinct Neolithic art.[13]

The Nabateans incorporated numerous sculpted panels, figurines and decorative friezes into their buildings at Petra and made pottery. Examples include the architectural detail used on the temple of Qsr al-Bint at Petra[14] and the prevalent stele representing the gods, as carved reliefs and either cut directly into the rock-face or carved as stand-alone units and placed inside carved niches.[15]

The Romans conquered Palestine and Syria in 64-63 BCE, and annexed Nabatea in 106 CE by which time the whole of Jordan fell under Roman rule. The Roman occupation corresponded with a flowering of the visual arts - painting, architecture. By the time of the Emperor Justinian (527-565 CE), churches dotted Jordan's landscape and these featured intricate mosaic floors, frescoes and porticos.[16]

Islamic artEdit

The Umayyad period marks the starting point of Islamic art and architecture.[17] The wealth and patronage of the Umayyad period stimulated the construction of religious, administrative and royal residences as well as prompting a distinctive style of bayt (domestic home). Jordan has some of the finest examples of early Islamic architecture including: caravanserais, desert castles (in Arabic known as qusayr), bath-houses, hunting lodges and palaces located in the fringe of the eastern desert.[18]

Examples of great mosques constructed during the rule of the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid I (705-714) include: the Great Mosque of Damascus (706 CE), the Al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem (715 CE), and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina (709-715). Since the mid 19th-century, a number of the Umayyad sites have been excavated, revealing stunning frescoes, wall and ceiling paintings and statuary.[19] One of these paintings, the Painting of the Six Kings has been the subject of considerable scholarship with respect to its interpretation.[20]

Notable frescoes and relief carvings can be found the desert castles of Quasyr Al Hallabat; Quasyr al-Kharanah, Quasyr el-Azraq, Qasr Mshatta and the Quasyr 'Amra which features frescoes of hunting scenes, musicians, acrobats, entertainers, nude women, wrestlers and scenes of the Royal court.[21] Lesser desert castles include Quasyr al-Tuba; Quasyr al-Hayr al-Gharbi; Quasyr Burqu', Qasr el `Uweinid and Qasr el Feifeh. [22]

Poetry and calligraphy were elevated to high art. Under the Umayyad, writing assumed a special place, often based on scripture and the life of the prophet, Mahommed, but often seen as the carrier of independent meaning and a subject worthy of ornamentation.[23] Master calligraphers were venerated. The art of calligraphy was passed from master to student in a formal, rigorous system of training that took place over many years, required for students to learn the strict rules and protocols that governed the art form. Both religious and secular writing flourished under the Umayyad dynasty.

Poets, (known as sha'ir meaning wizard) were thought to be inspired by a spirit (jinn), and were expected to defend the honour of their tribe, and to perpetuate its deeds and accomplishments.[24] The Mu'allaqat, a collection of seven poems by different poets, although pre-Islamic in origin, is thought to be the precursor to Arabic poetry.


Early modern artEdit

The origins of modern art in Jordan have their roots in the 1920s and 1930s when a small number of artists settled in Amman. Omar Onsi (1901-1969) was a Lebanese artist who settled in Amman in around 1922,[25] and gave painting lessons to the children of Abdullah I.[26] In 1930, the Turkish artist, Ziauddin Suleiman (1880-1945) also settled in Amman and held the first solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Hotel.[27] In 1948, George Aleef arrived in Jordan with a group of Palestinian refugees and set up an art studio where he taught local students.[28] These three artists introduced local students to easel painting and contributed to a broader appreciation of art. [29]

As late as the 1940s, Jordan had no art galleries and art exhibitions were virtually unknown.[30] The few art exhibitions that were mounted, were held in public spaces such as schools and the halls of parliament.

Jordanian modern art movementEdit

In the late 1950s, a group of young artists who had trained in Europe, returned to Jordan to lay the foundations of the Jordanian modern art movement.[31] A number of these students, including Muhanna Al-Dura, Rafiq Lahham, and Suha Katibah Noursi, received their earliest art education in Jordan from the Russian émigré, George Aleef, who was the first Western painter to establish a studio in Amman and teach local students. According to Muhanna Dura's memoirs, Aleef taught his students the basics of watercolor, drawing and painting, and the European understanding of perspective.[32] Dura along with these young artists helped to spark a local, Jordanian art movement. [33]

Muhanna Dura ultimately taught painting and art history at the Teachers' Training College in Ammman and in 1964, established the Fine Arts Section at the Department of Culture and Art, Amman, and also established the Jordan Institute of Fine Arts in 1970. Thus, he inspired a generation of young artists. Among his notable students were the Princess Wijdan Ali who is best known for her attempts to revive the traditions of Islamic art.[34] and Nawal Abdallah, who is one of the leading lights of Jordan's contemporary arts scene and whose art often includes calligraphy.[35]

A second group of artists, who trained in Europe and America in the 1960s, returned to Jordan and began to search for a distinctive Jordanian artistic expression and to assert their Arab identity. Notable artists in the Jordanian art movement include: Khalid Khreis (b. 1955); Nabil Shehadeh (b. 1949); Yasser Duwaik (b. 1940); Mahmoud Taha (b. 1942) and Aziz Amoura (b. 1944).[36]

Hurufiyah art movementEdit

 
Roof of Frere Hall, Karachi, Pakistan, c. 1986. Pakmural by artist, Sadequain Naqqash, integrates calligraphy into a contemporary artwork

The Hurufiyah Art Movement (also known as the Al-hurufiyyah movement or the North African Letterist movement) refers to the use of calligraphy as a graphic form within an artwork.[37] From around 1955, artists working in North Africa and parts of Asia transformed Arabic calligraphy into a modern art movement.[38] The use of calligraphy in modern art arose independently in various Islamic states; few of these artists had knowledge of each other, allowing for different manifestations of hurufiyyah to emerge in different regions. [39] In Sudan, for instance, artworks include both Islamic calligraphy and West African motifs.[40]

 
Detail of Roof of Frere Hall

Hurufiyah artists rejected Western art concepts, and instead searched for a new artistic identity drawn from within their own culture and heritage. These artists successfully integrate Islamic visual traditions, especially calligraphy, into contemporary, indigenous compositions.[41] Although hurufiyah artists were concerned with their individual dialogue with nationalism and attempted to engage with the modern art movement, they also worked towards an aesthetic that transcended national boundaries and represented a broader affiliation with an Islamic identity. [42]

Jordan's most notable exponents of hurufiyyah art are the ceramicist, Mahmoud Taha and the artist and art historian, Princess Wijdan Ali who through her writing has been able to bring the art movement to the attention of a broader audience.[43]

Art galleries and museumsEdit

 
The Ayn Ghazal Bust, on display at the Jordanian Museum, is estimated to be 9,500 years old and is the oldest known human figure
  • Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts
  • Jabal Luwiebdeh Art Museum
  • Khalid Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun
  • Dar Al-Anda, Amman - a museum and research centre[44]
  • Foresight32 Art Gallery, Amman
  • Nabad, Amman
  • Wadi Finan, Amman
  • Orfali Gallery, Um Uthaina
  • Orient Gallery, Abdoun, West Amman
  • Jacaranda, Amman
  • Cairo Amman Bank Gallery, Wadi Saqra, Amman

See alsoEdit

Notable historic architectural sitesEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Beienkowski, P., The Art of Jordan, Stroud, Allan Sutton, 1991, pp. 16-17
  2. ^ Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S. S., The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, pp 362-363; Taylor, J. Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans, I.B. Tauris, 2001, p. 11 and p. 47
  3. ^ Zuhur, S. (ed.), Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 369
  4. ^ Mideast File, Vol. 4, Learned Information, 1985, p. 265
  5. ^ Bienkowski, P. and van der Steen, E., "Tribes, Trade, and Towns: A New Framework for the Late Iron Age in Southern Jordan and the Negev," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 323 (Aug., 2001), pp. 21-47
  6. ^ Ali, W., Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, London, Scorpion Publishing, 1989
  7. ^ Flood, F.B. and Necipoglu, G. (eds) A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Wiley, 2017, p. 1294; Lindgren, A. and Ross, S., The Modernist World, Routledge, 2015, p. 495; Mavrakis, N., "The Hurufiyah Art Movement in Middle Eastern Art," McGill Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Blog, Online: https://mjmes.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/article-5/; Tuohy, A. and Masters, C., A-Z Great Modern Artists, Hachette UK, 2015, p. 56; Ramadan, K.D., Peripheral Insider: Perspectives on Contemporary Internationalism in Visual Culture, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2007, p. 49; Asfour. M., "A Window on Contemporary Arab Art," NABAD Art Gallery, Online: http://www.nabadartgallery.com/
  8. ^ Adams, L.S., The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction, Routledge, 2018, [E-book edition], n.p.
  9. ^ Mithen, S., After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC, UK, Hachette UK, 2011, [E-book edition], n.p.
  10. ^ Kleiner, F.S., Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Concise Western History, Cengage Learning, 2016, p. 21
  11. ^ Kleiner, F.S., Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Concise Western History, Cengage Learning, 2016, pp. 20-21
  12. ^ Bourke, S., The Middle East: The Cradle of Civilization Revealed, Thames & Hudson, 2008, p. 43
  13. ^ Kleiner, F.S., Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Concise Western History, Cengage Learning, 2016, pp. 20-21
  14. ^ Basile, J.J., "Recently Discovered Relief Sculptures from the Great Temple at Amman," Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, vol. 46, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Amman, 2002
  15. ^ Patrich, J., The Formation of Nabataean Art: Prohibition of a Graven Image Among the Nabateans, Brill Archive, 1990, pp. 59-76
  16. ^ "The Art of Ancient Jordan," in Minerva, Aurora Publications, 1991, pp. 20-24
  17. ^ Genequand, D., "Umayyad Castles: The Shift From Late Antique Military Architecture to Early Islamic Palatial Building," in: Kennedy, H (ed.), Muslim Military Architecture in Greater Syria: from the Coming of Islam to the Ottoman Period, [History of Warfare Series], vol. 35, no. 2, Boston Brill, Leiden, 2006, pp. 3-25; Yalman, S., "The Art of the Umayyad Period (661–750)," The Met Museum, Online:
  18. ^ Genequand, D., "Umayyad Castles; The Shift From Late Antique Military Architecture to Early Islamic Palatial Building," in: Kennedy, H (ed.), Muslim Military Architecture in Greater Syria: from the Coming of Islam to the Ottoman Period, [History of Warfare Series], vol. 35, no. 2, Boston Brill, Leiden, 2006, pp. 3-25
  19. ^ Fowden, G., Qusayr 'Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria, University of California Press, 2004, p. 49
  20. ^ Grabar, O., "The Painting of the Six Kings at Quṣayr 'Amrah," Ars Orientalis, Vol. 1, 1954, pp. 185-187
  21. ^ Fowden, G., Qusayr 'Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria, University of California Press, 2004, especially see pp 55-68 for descriptions of the frescoes at Qusayr 'Amra
  22. ^ Kennedy, D. and Riley, D., Rome's Desert Frontiers, Routledge, 2012, pp. 8-9
  23. ^ Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O. and Jenkins, K. (eds.), Islamic Art and Architecture, 650-1250 Yale University Press, 2001, p. 79
  24. ^ Islamic Art, Literature, and Culture, Britannica Educational Publishing, 2009, pp. 58-60
  25. ^ Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S. S., The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, pp. 362-363; Zuhur, S. (ed.), Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East,American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 375
  26. ^ Naef, Silvia (1996). À la recherche d'une modernité arabe: l'évolution des arts plastiques en Égypte, au Liban et en Irak (in French). Slatkine. p. 160. ISBN 978-2-05-101376-5. 
  27. ^ Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S. S., The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, pp. 362-363
  28. ^ Zuhur, S., Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 375
  29. ^ Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S. S., The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, p. 362
  30. ^ Mostyn, T., Jordan: A Meed Practical Guide, Middle East Economic Digest Limited, Jordan, 1983, p. 72; the author claims that the first art exhibition was held in 1938 but adds no detail. However, different sources claim that the first art exhibition was held in 1951, See: Jordan, Jordan Information Bureau, 1981, p. 53 and Jonathan Bloom and Sheila S. Blair (eds), Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture, Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 362
  31. ^ Zuhur. S., Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 377
  32. ^ Rogers, S., "Mohanna Durra," in Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World, Online: http://www.encyclopedia.mathaf.org.qa/en/bios/Pages/Mohanna-Durra.aspx; Mejcher-Atassi, S. and Schwartz, J.P., Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World, Routledge, 2016, p. 175; Mejcher-Atassi, S. and Schwartz, J.P., Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World, Routledge, 2016, p. 175
  33. ^ Mejcher-Atassi, S. and Schwartz, J.P., Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World, Routledge, 2016, p.175
  34. ^ Hashem Talham, G., Historical Dictionary of Women in the Middle East and North Africa, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013, p. 24
  35. ^ Teller, M., "A Hit List of Jordanian Artists" in Jordan, Rough Guides, 2002, p. 425
  36. ^ Zuhur. S., Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University in Cairo Press, 2001, pp. 377-78
  37. ^ Mavrakis, N., "The Hurufiyah Art Movement in Middle Eastern Art," McGill Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Blog, Online: https://mjmes.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/article-5/;Tuohy, A. and Masters, C., A-Z Great Modern Artists, Hachette UK, 2015, p. 56
  38. ^ Flood, F.B. and Necipoglu, G. (eds) A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Wiley, 2017, p. 1294
  39. ^ Dadi. I., "Ibrahim El Salahi and Calligraphic Modernism in a Comparative Perspective," South Atlantic Quarterly, 109 (3), 2010 pp 555-576, DOI:https://doi.org/10.121500382876-2010-006; Flood, F.B. and Necipoglu, G. (eds) A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Wiley, 2017, p. 1294
  40. ^ Flood, F.B. and Necipoglu, G. (eds) A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Wiley, 2017, p. 1298-1299
  41. ^ Lindgren, A. and Ross, S., The Modernist World, Routledge, 2015, p. 495; Mavrakis, N., "The Hurufiyah Art Movement in Middle Eastern Art," McGill Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Blog, Online: https://mjmes.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/article-5/; Tuohy, A. and Masters, C., A-Z Great Modern Artists, Hachette UK, 2015, p. 56
  42. ^ Flood, F.B. and Necipoglu, G. (eds) A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Wiley, 2017, p. 1294
  43. ^ Ramadan, K.D., Peripheral Insider: Perspectives on Contemporary Internationalism in Visual Culture, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2007, p. 49; Mavrakis, N., "The Hurufiyah Art Movement in Middle Eastern Art," McGill Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Blog, Online: https://mjmes.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/article-5/
  44. ^ Reynolds, D.F. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 204

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Piotr Bienkowski, Treasures from an Ancient Land: The Art of Jordan, A. Sutton Publishing, 1994, 1996
  • Peter Vine, Jewels of the Kingdom: The Heritage of Jordan, Immel, 1987