The effects of Islam on Coptic art from the Muslim conquest of Egypt onward. There can be no absolute appraisal of such one-sided artistic development, for ever since the conquest, there has been an interaction of Muslim and Coptic art. Techniques developed by Muslim craftsmen, such as luster painting in metallic oxide over glass, were adopted by Coptic artists, and eventually, art objects were manufactured by Muslims for a Christian clientele. At the same time, there were fields in which the Copts traditionally excelled, such as in textile weaving or woodcarving, in which they continued to produce under Muslim rule, not only for the Copts but for the Muslims as well. This situation created a new term, “Copto- Muslim” art, according to P. de Bourguet. This term particularly reflects the rich artistic Coptic production typical of the Fatimid period (tenth-twelfth centuries).
However, Islamic influences on Coptic art can be detected even before the tenth century. Both woodcarvings and ivory provide several examples of parallels between Coptic art and the contemporary Umayyad art, both in style and in motifs. Interaction between various media may be seen in some of the common Coptic textiles, which use geometrical patterns with intertwined motifs and recall some comparable motifs in Umayyad mosaics. Details of Muslim frescoes such as those in Qasr ‘Amra or in the mosaics of Khirbat al-Mafjar, both Umayyad monuments from the eighth century, could have influenced frescoes in the monastery of Apa Apollo at BAWIT. One painted relief decoration was based on an overall pattern of lozenges made of buds of flowers (Clédat, 1904, pl. 12).
The very material of the carved stucco decoration of DAYR ANBA MAQAR (Monastery of Saint Macarius) and of DAYR AL- SURYAN (Monastery of the Syrians) in Wadi al-Natrun, attributed to the years around A.D. 900, echoes the influence of Islamic art. Indeed Coptic art has been traditionally known to use stone for carving and architectural decoration, whereas stucco is an evident import from the Muslim East, especially Iran and Mesopotamia. The style of schematized half-palmettes recalling their Sassanid ancestors is in perfect accordance with a somewhat earlier decoration of the Abbasid capital of Samarra of the ninth century.
Doubtless the widest range of interaction in Coptic and Muslim art was to be found during the peak of the Fatimid period. The typical Persian arch, pointed and with both ends terminated in parallel arms, characterized both Muslim and Coptic architecture. Woodcarving, abundantly manufactured by both Copts and Muslims, was very close in style, and can sometimes be distinguished only by its Christian emblems. The same can be said for numerous examples of luster pottery, when a Christ or other obvious Christian subjects distinguish a particular Coptic piece from Muslim ceramics of the same period. Glass, mainly luster-painted glass, which by its fragile nature has been preserved in lesser quantities, displays characteristics similar to those of pottery. In any of these crafts it is not even clear whether the craftsmen were the same, producing their wares for both clienteles.
- Bourguet, P. du. Coptic Art. London, 1971.
- Clédat, J. Le Monastère et la nécropole de Bawit. Mémoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 12. Cairo, 1964.
- Coche de la Ferté, E. “Un Fragment de verre copte et deux groupes de verrerie médiévale.” Cahier de la céramique et des arts du feu. Sèvres, 1961.