Aesthetics in Arabic Thought

from pre-Islamic Arabia through al-Andalus


In Aesthetics in Arabic Thought from Pre-Islamic Arabia through al-Andalus José Miguel Puerta Vílchez analyzes the discourses about beauty, the arts, and sense perception that arose within classical Arab culture from pre-Islamic poetry and the Quran (sixth-seventh centuries CE) to the Alhambra palace in Granada (fourteenth century CE). He focuses on the contributions of such great thinkers as Ibn Ḥazm, Avempace, Ibn Ṭufayl, Averroes, Ibn ʿArabī, and Ibn Khaldūn in al-Andalus, and the Brethren of Purity, al-Tawḥīdī, al-Fārābī, Avicenna, Alhazen, and al-Ghazālī in the East.
The work also explores literary criticism, calligraphy, music, belles-lettres ( adab), and erotic literature, and highlights the contribution of Arab humanism to shaping the field of Aesthetics in the West.

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Biographical Note

J.M. Puerta Vílchez is Professor of Islamic Art and Aesthetics at the University of Granada. His publications include La aventura del cálamo. Historia, formas y artistas de la caligrafía árabe (2007), Leer la Alhambra (2010), The Poetics of Water in Islam (2011), and The Artistic Sense of Qurtuba (2015), as well as “Art and Aesthetics in the Work of Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba” in Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba, ed. C. Adang, M. Fierro and S. Schmidtke (Leiden: Brill, 2012). He co-directed the Biblioteca de al-Andalus (9 vols., 2003-2013) and curated the exhibit “Arts and cultures in al-Andalus. The power of Alhambra (2013-2014).”

Table of contents

Table of contents
Preface to the English translation
1) Contemporary historiography of Arab-Islamic aesthetic thought
a) Western criticism
b) Arabic criticism
2) Aesthetic theory and Arab Andalusi aesthetics
1.1. Pre-Islamic sensibility and the vocabulary of aesthetics
1.1.1. The supernatural origin of artistic creation
1.1.2. The physical and luminous character of beauty in pre-Islamic poetry. Woman as an aesthetic object and agent
1.1.3. The arts and architecture in pre-Islamic poetry
1.2. The great message of Revelation and its aesthetic dimension
1.2.1. Beauty and absolute perfection in the word and the divine order
a) The inimitability of the Quran
b) The Creator
c) Creation
1.2.2. Artistic creation in the sacred texts
a) The problem of figurative representation
b) Architecture and sculpture in the Quran
c) Prophethood and poetry
d) Music in the ḥadīth
1.2.3. The development of the arts under the new politico-religious order of Islam
2.1. The arts in the Arab-Islamic encyclopedia
2.1.1. The arts in the classification of knowledge in the East
2.1.2. The arts in the classification of knowledge in al-Andalus and the Maghrib
a) The arts in the Ẓahiri system of knowledge
b) Ibn Bājja: the practical arts and classifications of intellectual knowledge in the founding of Andalusi falsafa
c) Ibn Ṭufayl’s self-taught philosopher: man in a state of nature neither produces nor conceives of the arts
d) The arts and knowledge in Ibn Rushd’s rationalist scheme
e) The arts in Ibn Khaldūn’s study of society
2.2. The Brethren of Purity’s Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic concepts of art, and al- Tawḥīdī’s school in Baghdad
2.2.1. The Brethren of Purity’s Pythagorean theory of art
a) The universal geometric order
b) The harmonious concord of the cosmos
c) Ideal proportion, the key to artistic perfection
d) The manual arts and artistic creativity
2.2.2. The aesthetic Neoplatonism of al-Tawḥīdī’s school in Baghdad
a) Thought, art, and inspiration
b) Artistic form and the Unicity of God
c) Artistic creation as the emanation of the soul and the perfection of nature
d) The nature of beautiful form
e) The language arts: prose, verse, and rhetoric
f) Musical harmony and its affinity with the soul
g) Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī’s treatise on calligraphy and the foundations of the genre in Arabic
2.3. Calligraphy among the sciences of language in Ibn al-Sīd of Badajoz
2.4. Revelation, morality, and art in the work of Ibn Ḥazm
2.4.1. The divine origin of the arts and their human transmission
2.4.2. The perfection and immutable order of divine Creation
2.4.3. Man’s works and Revelation: architecture, images, and music in Ibn Ḥazm’s jurisprudence
a) Mosques in a juridical treatise from tenth-century Cordoba. A moral warning about architecture
b) Religious and lay images in Ibn Ḥazm
c) The Ẓahiri faqīh on music
2.4.4. Ibn Ḥazm’s theory and criticism of poetry
a) The moral character of poetry
b) Poetic concepts and classes: technique, naturalness, and skill
c) Ibn Ḥazm’s rhetoric
d) The Quran is radically inimitable
2.5. Mimesis as the definition of art in Eastern falsafa
2.5.1. The origin and development of the concept of mimesis in classical Eastern Islam: Mattā, al-Fārābī, and Ibn Sīnā
a) Mattā and the Arabic version of mimesis
b) Mimesis in al-Fārābī’s theory of art: ethics, politics, and imagination
c) Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and his translation of Aristotle’s Poetics
2.5.2. Mimesis as a unifying concept of the arts in Eastern falsafa
2.5.3. Artistic enjoyment: elements for an aesthetics of falsafa
2.6. The theory of artistic mimesis in Andalusi thought and criticism
2.6.1. Rhetoric and poetics in Ibn Rushd’s ethical and rationalist thought
2.6.2. Ibn Rushd’s poetics between rhetoric and ethics
a) Ibn Rushd’s Talkhīṣ Kitāb al-shiʿr and its Greek original
b) The nature and types of Arabic poetry. The Averroist concept of mimesis
c) The ethical purpose of poetry
d) The components of eulogy
e) Harmonious and unified composition
f) The relationship of poetry to truth
g) Representation of misfortunes and defects
h) The characters that eulogy should represent
i) Modes of imitation in poetry
j) Rhetorical elements: extrinsic aspects, wordplay, and taghyīr or alteration
k) Criticizing poets’ falsehoods
2.6.3. The pleasures of imitation as a path to to ethical education in Ibn Rushd’s versions of the Rhetoric and the Poetics
a) The various mimetic arts: natural disposition, technique, and faithfulness
b) The enjoyment that every artistic imitation brings
c) The pleasure of poetry should serve its ethical goals
2.6.4. Ḥāzim al-Qarṭājannī: from the theory of mimesis to a total Arabic aesthetics
a) Theory and definition of poetic ideas
b) Poetry’s perceptual and intellectual dimension
c) Truth is not a issue in poetry. Definition of poetry
d) Muḥākāt and takhyīl: a profound conception of the imitative arts
e) Toward a general Arabic aesthetics: imitation, imagination, astonishment, pleasure. An aesthetics of light and reflection
f) Harmonious composition of the qaṣīda. Critical judgment
2.7. The history, sociology, and definition of the arts in Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima
2.7.1. The arts in the development of human civilization and as a manifestation of power
a) The geographic factor, and moderation as the physical, moral, and aesthetic ideal
b) The arts in the nomadic-vs.-sedentary debate. Necessity and opulence
c) The arts in Ibn Khaldūn’s semiotics of power
2.7.2. Ibn Khaldūn’s urbanism
a) Urban life follows the rise of state power
b) The city’s site and basic services
c) The ancient Arabs and architecture
2.7.3. Ibn Khaldūn’s definition of the arts
a) The arts consist of both theory and practice
b) The art of construction
c) The art of carpentry
d) The art of calligraphy
e) Ibn Khaldūn’s concept of poetry
3.1. Theory of knowledge and definition of beauty in the thought of Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba
3.1.1. Reason versus imagination. Ibn Ḥazm’s theory of knowledge
a) The nature of the human soul
b) The perceptive structure of the soul. Rational, sensory, and linguistic knowledge
c) The importance and specificity of visual perception
d) Ibn Ḥazm’s theory of colors and classical Arab physics
3.1.2. Physical beauty in Ibn Ḥazm’s writings on love
a) The ethical framework of love
b) Conceptualization of love and beauty
c) Spiritual affinity and physical forms
d) Love against reason. Transformations in aesthetic judgment
e) Ibn Ḥazm’s participation in the aesthetics of light
f) The fleeting nature of beauty
3.1.3. The metaphysical meaning of Ibn Ḥazm’s aesthetics
a) Beauty as a spiritual accident
b) The divinity and supernatural beings cannot be defined in aesthetic terms
3.1.4. Ethical and moral beauty
3.2. Aesthetic syntheses in Arabic erotic literature after Ibn Ḥazm
3.3. The metaphysics and perception of beauty in classical Arabic falsafa
3.3.1. Aesthetic principles and concepts in the Arabic version of Plotinus’s Enneads
3.3.2. Al-Fārābī’s metaphysical aesthetics
a) The beauty and perfection of the First Cause
b) The perfection and beauty of non-corporeal substances
c) Perfection and beauty of the human being compared to those of the First Cause
d) Modes of the perception and fulfillment of beauty
3.3.3. Divine, intellectual, and physical beauty in Avicenna’s metaphysics
a) Definition of divine Beauty and Goodness
b) Perception of beauty in Ibn Sīnā’s theory of knowledge
c) Metaphysical perception vs. sensory perception: pleasure and convenience, the ascent to supreme Felicity
3.4. Theory of perception and aesthetic contemplation in the Andalusi falsafa of Ibn Bājja and Ibn Ṭufayl
3.4.1. Ibn Bājja’s theory of perception
a) Faculties of the soul and the theory of forms
b) Sense perception. Vision and color theory. Acoustic perception
c) Intermediate faculties: common sense and the imaginative
d) The rational faculty: universals, spiritual forms, and higher knowledge
3.4.2. Parameters of Ibn Bājja’s transcendental aesthetics
a) Ibn Bājja’s theory of pleasure. Contemplative aesthetic delight
3.4.3. Ibn Ṭufayl and gustatory union with divine Beauty
3.5. Sensibility and intellection: Ibn Rushd’s shaping of aesthetics
3.5.1. Ibn Rushd’s theory of sensibility. Visual perception as the nucleus and paradigm of sensory knowledge
a) The judicious function of the senses
b) Visual perception and color theory
c) Sensibles in the soul
3.5.2. Common sense, imagination, and cogitatio: the judgment of the senses and artistic composition
3.5.3. Reason, imagination, and intellection
3.5.4. Nature, art, and knowledge. Ibn Rushd’s aesthetic order
3.6. Ibn al-Haytham’s Optics and the creation of an Arabic and universal theory of aesthetic visual perception
3.6.1. Visual knowledge and aesthetic knowledge
a) The distinctive faculty and its syllogistic visual functions
b) The innate and experiential nature of aesthetic knowledge
3.6.2. Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of aesthetic perception
a) The beauty of individual visible properties
b) Beauty as a combination of visible properties. Proportion
c) Ugliness as the absence of beauty
d) Circumstances and alterations of aesthetic perception. General moderation of visual factors
3.6.3. On Ibn al-Haytham’s artistic terminology
3.7. Al-Ghazālī’s aesthetics between theology (kalām) and Sufi mysticism (taṣawwuf)
3.7.1. Love for both sensible and divine beauty
3.7.2. Definition of sensible and artistic beauty
3.7.3. The superiority of internal beauty
3.7.4. Spiritual faculties for mystical knowledge and aesthetic taste
3.8. Harmony and appropriateness: aesthetics in the historical evolutionism of Ibn Khaldūn
3.9. The other side of reason. The aesthetic core of Ibn ʿArabī’s Sufism
3.9.1. Mystical and universal love
a) “God is Beautiful and Loves Beauty”
b) “Beauty reached in thee her utmost limit: another like thee is impossible”
c) “God created Adam in His own image”
3.9.2. Imagination versus reason. Theory of gnostic understanding
a) Theory of gnostic understanding
b) The science of Imagination
3.9.3. Divine Beauty and Majesty. Ibn ʿArabī’s aesthetics in the dialectic of tanzīh and tashbīh
a) Tanzīh and tashbīh: the Form of God
b) The aesthetics of the One and the many
c) Beyond iconoclasm
d) Seeing God
e) Divine Majesty and Beauty in the soul
3.10 The aesthetic vocabulary of the poems of the Alhambra
3.10.1. The divine origin of Beauty
3.10.2. The sovereign as aesthetic agent
3.10.3. The aesthetic narcissism of architecture
General Index


This work will be of interest to historians of art and aesthetics, historians of Andalusi and Islamic art, philosophers, and Arabists. It is directed to university professors and students in the fields of Arabic studies, history of art, and philosophy.