The Moors ruled over North Africa and portions of Iberia from the 8th century onwards. In Iberia, Moorish rule continued all the way until the 15th century while in North Africa, it remained after the 15th century as well.
The term “Moorish art” refers to the style of art which thrived in North Africa and Spain during the heyday of Moorish might, between the 8th and 15th century. Moorish rule in Spain itself underwent significant changes over the course of some seven centuries and these changes are reflected in the Moorish art itself.
Moors were Muslims of Berber and Arab descent who first arrived in Iberia in early 8th century. They were to remain a major power in Iberia until at least the 12th century and a minor power for another two centuries.
Early Moorish political structure had Omayyad Arabs as the key power-holders and the Moorish art of this period reflects major Arab-Muslim influences. The Moors defeated the Visigoths when they conquered Iberia in the 8th century and the legacy of the Visigoth art lived on as influences that can be seen in early Moorish art.
From 12th century onwards, Moorish Iberia and North Africa came directly under Berber control and the change was reflected in the art created during this period. The golden period of Moorish art came in the 13th and 14th centuries when Moors produced some of the most glorious art pieces in their last Iberian stronghold, the Emirate of Granada.
The most notable aspects of Moorish visual arts was the recurring motif of plants and floral patterns which were extensively used in Moorish ivory and wood carvings as well as on architectural carvings.
In architecture, Moorish style was characterised by the use horseshoe arches, large and lavish courtyards, extensive carved decorations known as muqarnas and the frequent use of glass mosaics on the interior of buildings.
The chief genre of Moorish art was architecture in which Moors employed wood and stone carvings, calligraphic paintings and other highly intricate embellishments such as honeycomb vaults. It is also the genre of which the most numerous number of examples are extant today in North Africa, Spain and Portugal.
Other forms of Moorish art include ivory boxes with intricate designs and court scenes. Metalwork was also a major art form in the Moorish society and many boxes made from metal boxes in Moorish Spain are extant today.
Another popular form of Moorish art was colourful textiles and rugs which were coveted in the Muslim world as well as Europe for their brilliance and quality.