What Geometrical Designs Are Used in Islamic Art?

Written by charlotte rubin
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What Geometrical Designs Are Used in Islamic Art?
Geometric forms abound in the architectural details of this Moroccan mosque. (Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images)

Geometric designs feature prominently in Islamic art. Because Islam discourages idolatry -- worshipping an image as an idol -- Islamic art tends to be non-figurative. Rather than representing human figures or animals, Islamic art is made up of ornamental designs intended to aid in the contemplation of Allah. Along with calligraphic and vegetal motifs, geometric forms are widespread in the architecture and art of Islam.

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Intertwining Circles

The circle is the backbone of all geometric designs in Islamic art. Using a compass and ruler, artists draw, duplicate and overlap perfect circles to create ornamental patterns. To make intertwining circles, artists draw a straight, horizontal line intersected by a vertical line, with a circle in the centre. Placing the compass tip on the intersection points of the lines and the circle, they draw additional circles above, below and on either side of the central circle. Within this pattern, additional geometric shapes, like rosettes, triangles and hexagons, can be found.

What Geometrical Designs Are Used in Islamic Art?
The compass is instrumental in the creation of Islamic geometric art. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Squares Within Squares

Like circles, squares are overlapped and intertwined to create harmonious ornamental patterns. Square tiles adorn much Islamic architecture, and squares are also used as framing devices for geometric patterns. Within square tiles and borders, additional squares and half-squares can be found. Circles within squares are also common in Islamic design. Such a motif reflects the process by which a square is drawn: artists use a ruler to form four straight lines around a circle.

Six-Pointed Stars

Circles are also used to create the six-pointed star motif. This design is achieved by drawing two triangles, one up-side-down, one right-side-up, within a circle. The triangles must overlap so that the top of each sits opposite the top of the other. Six-pointed stars can be repeated within a single composition to create additional geometric shapes. For example, if one star is surrounded by six additional stars so that each point on the central star touches a point on each additional star, hexagons will form in the open spaces between the stars. A hexagon can also be found in the centre of each six-pointed star.

Eight-Pointed Stars

The eight-pointed star is another recurrent image in Islamic art. Like the six-pointed star, it forms and is formed by geometric shapes. At the centre of an eight-pointed star is an octagon, and the eight-pointed star is created by inscribing two squares within a circle, making sure the squares overlap so that eight equal triangular corners are visible. Eight-pointed stars will have short points if the points are contained within the circle or longer points if the points extend beyond the circle.

Symbolism of Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are used in Islamic art both because of their aesthetic possibilities and their symbolism. While the circle symbolises infinity and heaven, the square denotes the secular, human world. When such shapes are repeated to form seemingly endless patterns, infinity is suggested and spiritual meditation encouraged.

What Geometrical Designs Are Used in Islamic Art?
The Dome of the Rock is decorated with geometric patterns and is itself an octagon. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

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