Mosque Lamps: Güzel!

If you’ve never seen a mosque lamp (or even if you have), you’re in for a treat:

Mosque Lamp, 14th century, Egypt or Syria, Enameled and gilt glass, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal

Isn’t it amazing? Take a minute and bask in its glory.

These oil lamps were hung in a circular patterns in mosques and other religious buildings.  They’ve been replaced with electric lights, and somehow, although I find the oil lamps to be spectacular, the electric lights don’t bother me:

Suleymaniye Mosque, 1550-58, Istanbul, Turkey

Glass lamps make perfect sense for illumination purposes, although most of them are so heavily decorated that I wonder how effective they really were.  They also symbolized God’s light and were often decorated with Koranic verses, particularly the “Verse of Light,” in enamel.   Lamps could also be metal or ceramic, and may have served an acoustic function in mosques.  Good thing, because they couldn’t have shed much, if any, light.

Mosque Lamp, Late 16th century, Turkey, Iznik fritware, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

The decoration also usually included the name of, or a symbol standing for, the donor. Mosque lamps hung by chains from the metal circles that were suspended from the ceiling (as in the above photo of the electric mosque lights):

Ceramic Mosque Lamp, 16th-17th century (?), Iznik, Turkey, British Museum, London

These lamps encompass all that I love about Islamic art: function plus beauty. I guess you could argue that a lot of these were hardly functional, but the original intention was to provide light.  In a beautiful way.  Here’s one from Venice — the description says that it may have been made as a blank to be decorated after being imported into Egypt, but I’m glad that it never made it.  The pure yet irregular form takes my breath away:

Mosque Lamp, 1550-1600, Blown glass, made in Venice, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A couple more examples:

Mosque Lamp, 1350-55, Enameled and gilt glass, made in Egypt, British Museum, London

Mosque Lamp, 1360, Enameled and gilt glass, made in Egypt, Freer/Sackler Museums, Washington, DC

I can’t help but think of the lamp stores that we saw in Istanbul last summer.  Although for a different purpose, these lamps were just as striking:

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey, August 2012

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey, August 2012

And this one I love:

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey, August 2012

Güzel!  (The first word I learned in Turkish, meaning beautiful!)


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