ceiling contain islamic art with red coffee and white

Significance of Colors in Islamic Art History

Islamic art is the production of visual artworks in the Islamic world. It is somehow hard to identify its features and characteristics because it covers a wide range of countries, lands, periods, and genres.

The appearance of Islamic art production started in the Hijra of Prophet Muhammad and lasted till the 19th century.

The beauty of Islamic art is that it does not focus on religion only, but it is more like civilized art.

Islamic art included various artwork shapes, Islamic calligraphy, miniature, glass, pottery, carpets, architecture, and more.

However, representation of Islamic religious figures is found in some manuscripts from Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India.

These pictures were meant to illustrate the story and not to break the Islamic prohibition of idolatry, but at the same time, many Muslims regard such images as forbidden.

Islamic Art: Appearance & development

Islamic civilization witnessed former civilization and was followed by others.

This civilization came with its own ideology and philosophy. The reason for sustainability for this civilization is the broad minds and acceptance of others.

Islamic scholars studied these types of Islamic artworks, and gave them different names, like Eastern art, Maghrebi art, sometimes called Arabic art.

islamic art decoration ceiling in blue light blue yellow and gold

But the most accepted name was Islamic art as it reflects that this type of art spread in the whole Islamic world.

Although Islamic art was the same in shape, style, and content, it varied according to the region and historical period. And also according to historical traditions of every nation.

How Islamic ideology affected artist behavior

There are some ideological thoughts reflected in the behavior of Muslim artists. They are:


Consistency & inclusiveness.



Islamic paintings

Top of door decorated in Islamic art

It could be called the Arabic miniature.

This Miniature is a small painting on paper, usually a book or a manuscript illustration. But also sometimes a separate artwork.

This appeared early from around 1000 A.D. with a flourishing of the art form from around 1200 A.D.

Colors significance in Islamic Art

Studying colors is essential in Islamic civilization, as is the physical evidence for the level of this civilization and social classes and its differentiation.

It also reflects the prosperity of manufacturing and industry.

As for the art field, colors are one magnificent item in Islamic art history that reflects the genius of the artist and architect at that time, in terms of genuineness in both manufacturing and industry.

I would like to introduce and define some information about colors and their presence in Islamic civilization and identify some of the glimpses of beauties occupied in manuscripts images.

The Arabian school, the first school of Islamic photography, has flourished by designing colored manuscripts from 6 A.H. – 12  A.D.

This school probably started in Iraq, then spread to Syria, Egypt & Iran.

The colors of Arabian manuscripts are distinguished by diversity, coherence, and accuracy of manufacture.

Color references in Islamic thought

The Quran mentions colors many times. To express different things sometimes, it comes to be symbolic, other times physical.

The Quran mentions in particular 6 colors. These are:

White, green, black, yellow, blue & red. These colors reflect:


The symbol of purity and innocence.


Reflects plants, earth, animals & clothes. It is the symbol of love,  hope & peace.


It is the symbol of conflict between injustice and humankind.


The impression of warmth, the connection between the sun and it is the nearest color to light. It is the symbol of wisdom, optimism, confidence, focus & intelligence. It is the most used color in classrooms to increase students’ activity.


The color used by Arab people, as for its negative effect, and its effect on eyes in a negative way.


Although it was the favorite color for Arabs, it was mentioned only one time in the Quran. It is a symbol of the heat of love. It is the symbol of challenge and unlimited emotions.

Islamic Art Philosophy

The philosophy of Islamic colors depends on sensation, the taste of art, and the feeling of colors as one of the essential elements of creativity of Islamic art with its broad and narrow spectrum.

If the metals, carpets, clothes, pottery, glass, manuscript images, and other material were plain without including one or more colors, it turns into a work deleting the word art. It is called carpet, metal or pottery manufacture, etc.

islamic art wall inscriptions

Here the manufacturer focused on value instead of beauty, which is not the aim of Islamic art. Islamic art focuses on the beauty of art and the value of use.

Concept of Islamic portraits and its features

Islamic portraiture, known as miniature, is characterized by some features including the artist’s basic tools.

These are material, color & method. It is called “the art school”. The artist follows, then the technicality, how the artist deals with color and material. This differs from one artist to another.

Finally, Islamic portraiture aims to introduce humans, the universe, and religion. In which this art changes the sensation of beauty for art in the whole Islamic world.

islamic portraits including differnt colors and people walking in lines

This kind of portrayal is closely related to the development of manuscripts that discuss different scientific and literal knowledge, through portraits inside books to help readers imagine the written words and turn them into photos and visuals.

It is necessary to mention that Eastern people, China, India & Iran were more successful than Arab Muslims in portraying themselves. On the other hand, Arab Muslims were geniuses at pottery.

Artistic characteristics in some portrait schools and their symbols

Through Islamic history, came different schools that reflect and express the features and characteristics of that time.

islamic art ceiling with Arabic calliphgraphy and decoration in whilte red and green

Arabic School (Iran- Egypt- Syria- Iraq) 6 A.H. – 7 A.H.

Since the 6th A.H. century, the Arabic school, the first Islamic school of portraiture, flourished in decorating colorful manuscripts.

Colors in this early period were influenced by Islamic thought, which kept away from “actual presentation” as this feature came as a logical result of Islamic opinion about photography.

Some artistic rules were neglected, like embodiment, depth in portrays like shadow and light.

In this period, we can find every portrayal as it was lightened as it was featured in the sunlight, even if this situation happened in the dark of night.

The photographer used shiny colors as a result of being not related to reality. The colors used were blue, green, pink, coffee, purple, red, black, and gold.

At the end of the 6 A.H. century, Arabic schools developed a lot in the right use of colors.

The golden color came to be the favorite color in drawing aura around important figures’ faces to identify its sanctity and reflect their dignity and prestige.

The sky was portrayed simply as a small quadrant bow in blue reflecting skylights.

White doves symbolize the holy spirit. Most religious people wear black, which was worn in the Abbasid Era but was replaced with white by the Fatimi Era then back again by the Ayubian and Mamluk Eras.

Mughal School (604 A.H.)

Mughal appearance in Iran affects the applying of colors depends on the way of general mood expression, social and political status.

In the beginning, the Mughal portrayer was interested in reflecting on sad topics, so most of his portrays were about wars, fighting, and conflict.

This might happen because of the spirit of this era, which was full of wars, so there was a lot of killing and torturing.

The artist used dark colors like dark brown, dark blue, red, yellow, and a lot of blacks.

In the same era came Muzafri school, which got rid of sadness and reflected joy and happiness by choosing shiny colors like red, yellow, green, purple, gold, and blue.

White used to colorize the hats with many layers, which was one of the clothes features of the royal family in this era.

Safavids school (907 A.H)

Safavid’s color strategy was characterized at the beginning by choosing the best color materials. The portrayers created colorful harmony, but they were fascinated by decoration so that there was excessive use of both golden color and shiny bright colors.

In addition, from 11 A.H. to that, most Iranian portrayers focused on lines and fewer colors. At this time, the phenomenon of lovesickness signs spread, which were portrayed and reflected the love of God. It was drawn in a circle and linear shapes on the chest, leg, and arm, to express the strength of love to God for the color symbol was black and red.

Turkish Ottomans school

Turkish portrayers in the Uthmani era chose shiny simple colors, so it was restricted to color harmony independently with no blending.

Ottoman’s school was influenced by some of the Sufi thoughts that reflected the light of God. Most favorite colors in this school were:

Red: Reflected strength and victory.

Green: Reflected heaven on both earth and hereafter.

Blue: The favorite color for them, reflected Sufi clothes and used to prevent envy and evil.

White: Reflected purity, clarity, and Sufi thoughts.

Black: It was not used a lot, as they did not like this color too much, it was just used in identifying lines.

Yellow golden: It was related to light, sun, and light of God.

Andalusi School

They were interested in decorating their buildings, especially palaces, bathrooms with statues, portraits, and graffiti representing animals and birds.

Some of the manuscripts showed their dependence on bright colors. The most important color was white for Andalusi people. They wear it as a symbol of sadness, in contrast to Eastern people who wear black.

They also used both light and dark green, yellow, and red. Red was the favorite color for women’s scarves. Brown is also used with many grades and very limited use of black.

Examples of Islamic portrayed

islamic manuscript whorshiper in the mosque with muslim people

Description of the image:

Worshiper inside a mosque with some Muslims.

Mainly 4 colors are used: brown, black, white, and green.

Brown is used for the minbar “shrine”

Black for clothes, beard, and worshiper’s chair.

White is most prominent in hats.

Green is used in clothes.

This diversity in the portrayal reflects the different social classes, ages, and genders in the same place.

islamic manuscript of a burry scene

Description of the image:

Burying scene.

Colors are used; golden for buildings, white and brown for clothes, green for plants, yellow for domes, and black for women’s scarves and men’s beards.

Museums contain Islamic artworks

Most Islamic artworks can be found in the Louvre, the Metropolitan, British Museum, Cairo Islamic Museum, and the National Museum.

Louvre museum-contain islamic art

Manuscripts can be found in the British Library, French National Library.

Archeological sites can be found in Iraq, Cairo, Pakistan & the Maghreb.

International Islamic Art Day

Islamic art is considered to be one of the longest and consistent arts in history. Because it was a productive art related to the life of human life, through pottery, carpets, furniture, manuscripts, utensils, buildings, and more.

Another reason for the consistency of this art is the unification of the artist’s thoughts and ideology.

In 2019, a UNESCO-united nations educational, scientific and cultural organization showed the importance of Islamic art in all historical periods by announcing that 18th November every year will be the International Day of Islamic Art.

The worldwide celebration of the International Day of Islamic Art not only encourages the appreciation of Islamic Art. Islamic art is inspired by other artistic movements but also contributes to cultural diversity, freedom of expression, protection of cultural heritage, and inter-cultural dialogue.

Marking this day also enhances the tolerance between peoples and supports cultural rapprochement,  both of which are possible through the power of art.

Islamic Art could be realized as simple in appearance, but it is deep in meaning and reflects the nature of the historical period. The region, the culture, humans, society, and politics have existed for centuries.

Islamic Art, unique art

Islamic art is considered to be one of the special arts that imposes itself on the world, by identifying unique characteristics and specific styles related to it once and only.

Islamic Art was related to the appearance of Islam and the spread of its civilization, which was unique and popular in itself.

Islamic manuscripts and color significance, based upon data presented above, it is interesting to watch and analyze the portraits that appeared in different shapes and paintings.

These portraits were formed to convey real-life situations, social classes, political life, and everyday item usage.

The genuine of Muslim artist appears in how he express himself in the meanwhile respect and follow the ideology of his faith.

One thought on “Significance of Colors in Islamic Art History

  1. It’s a very strong topic and an amazing article with rich information which could help others in many fields.
    Thank you for it ⚘

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