Islamic Geometric Design By Eric Broug (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. 256 pages full color.)

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Tammy Gaber

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Abstract

The subject of Islamic geometric design has been described in numerous ways:
Keith Critchlow’s Islamic Patterns and Syed Jan Abbas and Amer Shaker
Salman’s Symmetries of Islamic Geometrical Patterns, both highly esoteric
interpretations; Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, Emile Prisse d’Avennes’
L’Art arabe d’apres les monuments du Kaire, and Jules Bourgoin’s Arabic
Geometrical Pattern and Design, all descriptions of drawing collections; and
even as a theme for countless “coffee table” books resplendent with glossy
photographs of exotic patterns and colors.
Is it fair to evaluate this book without tending to imagine the previous
categories of this study? Years ago I led a course on this topic and desperately
tried to juggle the beautiful, historic, and hands-on practical manifestations
of the sacred through drawing particular geometric patterns over and over again. For this course I needed to select chapters, or portions of the abovementioned
texts in addition to the comprehensive works of K. A. Creswell
in Early Muslim Architecture, Doris Behrens-Abou Seif’s Mamluks of Cairo
and Minarets of Cairo, as well as other architectural studies, and interpret
and reconstruct the designs in order to teach them. It was a research project
of sorts where the outcome was not textual but pedagogical.
While reading this text by Eric Broug, I felt that he had gone through a
similar but far more prolonged process. His book stands alone for several
reasons: the author (1) weaves knowledge of the historical, recognition of
the beautiful, and reconstruction of the practical regarding patterns. The succinct
explanatory text, incredible detailed photography in situ, and clear stepby-
step diagrams converge to elucidate this rich material; (2) outlines the
influence of other artistic traditions and the development of a clear type of
“Islamic geometry” that is easily recognizable; and (3) concentrates on the
design approach of craftspeople, which was separate and concurrent with the
scientific study of geometry. This difference is important: craftspeople applied
geometric patterns to various surfaces and were concerned with aesthetic
compositions; whereas scientists contemplated the complex patterns
in terms of mathematical geometries ...

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