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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

362                  The Contribution to Islam
and it is yet too early to evolve a detached and neutral stand-
point. A perusal of Dr. A. J. Butler's admirable Islamic
Pottery will serve to illustrate how fundamentally experts can
differ in fields which they have made their own peculiar
In design, the characteristic arabesque, a complicated scroll
based on simple geometrical patterns, already found in an ele-
mentary form at Samarra, the 'country residence* of the early
Caliphs of Bagdad, developed extraordinarily in Egypt under
the Fatimids. The earliest example of this feature in Egypt is
found in the Ibn Tulun Mosque, to which reference will be
made Hereafter. It should be remembered that a prohibition
has been placed since quite early days on the reproduction of
the human figure in art, though the Qusair Amra frescoes prove
that the prohibition was not very rigorously observed in private
dwelling-places. The Shi'ites, who achieved ascendancy in Persia
and parts of India, disregarded this vexatious restriction, and
to their heterodoxy, or humanism, we owe the splendid art of
miniature painting which is one of the chief glories of Islamic
culture: miniature painting never flourished in Egypt. Bound
by this restriction, the artistic urge had to find other outlets:
and these outlets were provided by the development of geo-
metrical design, in every imaginable kind of material. Book-
binding, of which the earliest extant examples have their
provenance in Egypt, gave full scope to this motif: experts find
Coptic influence strongly at work in the most primitive examples,
but later craftsmen were more catholic in their tastes. The use
of gold tooling had its influence on the binders of Venice.
Lacquered covers, gloriously designed with human and animal
motifs by Persian artists, were never introduced into Egypt.
Another manifestation of skill in design is provided by the art
of calligraphy, one of the most highly esteemed of all Islamic
arts. Princes and rulers were willing to pay fabulous sums to
skilled artists to execute Qur'ans written on finely prepared