Islamic Ornament – Overview

The beauty of Islamic ornament has inspired generations of artists and architects the world over for centuries. Part of the visual appeal of this tradition is the result of the harmonious use of calligraphy, geometric design and the floral idiom. Historically, this triadic approach to design has served as a governor through which the artists of diverse Muslim cultures have simultaneously developed distinctive regional styles, yet maintained a core aesthetic that is pan-Islamic. The beauty of Arabic calligraphy, geometric design, and the floral idiom are no less relevant to contemporary Islamic architecture.

For over twenty years, Jay Bonner has been committed to teaching the traditional methods used in constructing Islamic geometric patterns. Very sadly, this methodology has been largely lost over the past two hundred years. Yet the methods are not difficult, and the creative vitality that was once a hallmark of this tradition is retrievable. Jay Bonner has lectured and taught seminars on this topic at many universities in both Europe and the United States (please see the Curriculum Vitae section of this website), and his forthcoming book on the subject will make this traditional methodology more widely available (please see the Publications section of this website). The images in this section are examples of Jay Bonner’s ornamental design; all works are original, and copyrighted by him. If there is interest in using these designs for any purposes, please contact Jay Bonner for prior approval. Thank you.

Unless otherwise stated, the methodology used in creating all of the Islamic geometric patterns, the Islamic self-similar geometric patterns, the Islamic aperiodic geometric patterns, and the ornamental polyhedra in this section is the polygonal technique. This methodology consists of extracting the geometric pattern from an underlying polygonal tessellation. Typically, the location of the geometric pattern lines are determined by joining specific points on the underlying polygonal tessellation, such as the midpoints of each polygonal edge. Once the pattern has been constructed, the underlying polygonal tessellation is discarded. The subtleties of this methodology are detailed in Jay Bonner’s forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in mid-2012 (please see the Publications section of this website).

Most of the floral patterns represented in this section were designed in a pan-Islamic style developed by Jay Bonner while he was working on the ornament for the 27 Sliding Domes for the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia (al-Masjid al-Nabawi) in the early 1990s. Because this mosque is a major site of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world, it was appropriate that the floral ornament should be, at once, recognizably Islamic, yet not specific to any one historical epoch or region of the Islamic world. To accomplish this design mandate, Jay Bonner developed a floral style that is a simplified derivative form of Egyptian Mamluk floral design. Since the Medina Sliding Domes, Jay Bonner has used this pan-Islamic style on a wide variety of projects; particularly in Mecca and Medina (please see Projects section of this website).

Jay Bonner is also a specialist in the design of Muqarnas vaulting; although over the many years of practicing as an architectural ornamental consultant, only a few of his clients have included this decorative device. He learned the design methodology for Muqarnas in the early 1980s from an Iraqi associate who, in turn, was taught by master muqarnas designers in Iran.