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The Seljuqs were a Turkic dynasty that infiltrated and ultimately controlled Iran and Anatolia in the 11th century. Their rule saw an enormous wave of construction throughout their realm.
Apart from architecture, pottery was the dominant art form of the empire, characterized by a colorfulness and luster that had developed far beyond similar techniques in the past. The two great art centers of the period were Kashan and Reyy. In the former, lustrous ceramic tiles were found, some (decorated with human or animal figures) for covering public buildings, and others (decorated with plant motifs, geometric designs or calligraphy) for mosques.
The potters of Reyy, on the other hand, learned from immigrant Egyptian craftsmen how to make a compound of quartz and glass, which strengthened and deepened the glaze of a vessel. They also learned how to paint below the glaze: court or hunting scenes, arabesques, or animals done in luster against a white background.
Another group of ceramics from the 12th and 13th centuries used a blue or turquoise and white glaze, with the decorations engraved or carved.
Bronze- and copper-work became far more sophisticated in the 12th century by the use of silver inlay. Seljuq artists even took the liberty of making bronze and clay figurines, under the guise of utilitarian objects like incense-burners and containers.
In the 13th century, the Mamluks – manumitted Turkic slaves – seized control of Egypt and Syria, replacing the Ayyubid dynasty with their own empire (1250-1517). Over the years, daring Mamluk rulers successfully checked Mongol attempts to eat away at the Muslim domain. The Ottoman conquest of Egypt finally ended their rule.
Egypt was an important center of art in the Mamluk period. Egyptian metal craftsmen adopted old brass inlay techniques from Syria and Iran, but soon developed their own distinctive style. The decorative style of their impressive bowls, trays, candlesticks and incense-burners (among other things) was inspired by Mongol and Far Eastern art. It employed sophisticated arabesques and inscriptions, enhanced by gold and silver inlay.
Other outstanding artistic techniques of the Mamluk period were decorations in colored enamel, and gilding of glass objects. The finest of the latter were light fixtures designed for mosques. The wealth of decorations included arabesques, calligraphy, human figures, and banqueting and hunting scenes.
The arts of writing also flourished in Egypt and Syria. By order of the sultans, illustrated copies of the Qur’an were made, alongside scientific and literary manuscripts. The illustrations drew on the classic Iranian tradition, but were influenced by Far Eastern motifs as well.
The Mongols put an end to the declining Abbasid Caliphate. In 1207, Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes under his leadership, and set out on a campaign of vast conquests in Asia and Europe, leaving a trail of devastation wherever he went. The Mongols reached Iran and Iraq in the middle of the century, capturing Baghdad, the seat of the Caliphate, in 1258. Only at the end of the 13th century did the Mongols themselves embrace Islam, and open their domains across Asia to free trade, from the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of China.
Influenced by Seljuq architecture and art, the Mongol rulers (1258-1336) built grand structures and continued the Seljuq pottery tradition, especially of vessels with a metallic luster. Metalware was influenced by Far-Eastern motifs. Free trade brought with it significant Chinese influence, clearly evident in the exceptionally fine Mongol manuscripts. The illustrations show originality of expression, a realistic style, and a talent for invention and imagination.