Visual History of the World




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Artists that Changed the World
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio






For centuries the north of India had experienced periodic Arab invasions and settlement. The arrival of Turkic Muslim invaders from central Asia after 1000 had a more lasting impact, not least through settlement. The Hindu kingdoms of north India were subjugated and by 1206 Delhi and the Ganges valley too. Only the South remained unaffected. Although the destruction of Hindu temples indicates persecution, a pattern of co-existence quickly emerged. Ultimately Indian culture proved adept at assimilating the new influences. The Muslim sultans were successful as military rulers but were displaced by the Moguls after 1500.


The Hindu Empires in India

While northern India fell under the rule of the Muslim sultans, Hindu princes held onto power in most of central and southern India. The Vijayanagar Empire was the last significant Hindu state.


Distinctly Hindu or Dravidian dynasties reigned in central and southern India after 550.

One of these was the 2, 3 Calukya dynasty that ruled in Bidjapur between 543 and 757 and subjugated a significant part of southern India between 609 and 642.

A second 5 Calukya dynasty ruled between 975 and 1189.

2 Shiva, "king of the dance", with 18
arms, sculpture from the western
Calukya dynasty, sixth century

3 Vishnu, sculpture from
the Calukyan period

5 Female dancer, sculpture,
late western Calukya dynasty, twelfth

see also

The Love Temples of Khajuraho


"Kama Sutra"

They became involved in power struggles with the most important southern Indian dynasty, the 1, 6 Pallava of Kanchi, who had spread out in the seventh century into Deccan and the southern tip of India.

They were supplanted by the dynasty of the Colas (888-1267), who enlarged their east coast kingdom northward. UnderRajarajal (the Great), they rose to become the leading power in South India around 1000. They were also a naval power, their fleet sailing in 1001 to Ceylon and in 1014 occupying the Maldives.
The Hindu rulers of central India, including the Pala kings of Bengal (750-1199) or the Kanauj kings (840-1197), were eventually defeated by the advancing Muslim armies.

1 The Rajasimhesvara temple in Mahabalipuram,
south India, built ca. 690-715 under the Pallava dynasty

6 Buddha Maitreya, gold-plated bronze sculpture,
seventh-ninth century

The last great Hindu kingdom, 7 Vijayanagar (City of Victory), was founded in 1336.

Its capital, 4, 8 Hampi, was originally built on the site of a temple.

It subsequently grew to become the preeminent kingdom in southern India. The flourishing city, with its magnificent temples and palaces, became a center of Indian literature and science. The kings of Vijayanagar regarded the Tungabadhra and Kistna rivers as the southern boundary of Islam and in 1380 compiled a col-lec-tion of all the Brahman teachings, the Sarvadarshana Sangraha. While they successfully held off the invaders for some time, the last ruler, Ramaraja, fell in 1565 at Talikota in battle against the Muslim sultan Ahmadnagar. Thereafter, only a small Hindu kingdom survived in Madurai. This was in turn annexed in 1684 by the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb.

7 Vijayanagar-style ceiling fresco,
in the Virabhadra temple in Lepakshi,

4 Vithala Temple in Hampi,
capital of the Vijayanagar kings,
16th century

8 Narashima, the fourth incarnation
of Vishnu, sculpture in Hampi


The Sultans of Delhi

In the wake of the Ghaznavids and Ghurids, military dynasties of Turkish origin increased the spread of Islam in India. They came to an end with the Lodi rulers, who were defeated by the Moguls.


Ever since the first Muslim armies had advanced into Pakistan and India around 700, India had been coveted by Islamic rulers. Mahmud of Ghazna's campaigns of conquest after 1001 put great pressure on the Hindus, whose polytheism the strict Muslims vehemently rejected.

The Ghaznavids dominated the north of India at the beginning of the 12th century, but in 1187 they were displaced by the powerful Afghan 9 Ghurids in Lahore, who had already subjugated Multan in 1175.

In 1193 Sultan Muizz ad-Din occupied Delhi and expanded his realm to Gujarat in the south and Bengal in the east.

The driving force behind these conquests was the Turkish general Qutb-ud-Din 10, 11 Aybak, who had ended the rule of the Buddhist princes in 1194 with the capture of Bihar, and pushed the Hindus to the south.

He felt strong enough in 1206 to depose the Ghurid sultan and founded the "Slave King" sultanate of Delhi. His successor, Iltutmish (ruled 1211-1236) conquered Sind and made Delhi an independent Islamic kingdom. In 1290, the House of Aybak was overthrown by the Khalji dynasty, which was also Turkish. They fended off the Mongols, conquered all of Deccan (central India), and advanced to Madurai in southern India. The sultanate divided the country into fiefs that were distributed to the Muslim nobility, each of whom was required to provide and maintain troop contingents in case of war. The Khaljis were later followed by the military dynasties of the Tughluqs (1320-1414) and Sayyids (1414-1451), under whom the state administration was Islamized. After 1388, many regions became increasingly independent from the government in Delhi and formed their own sultanates, including Bengal, Deccan, Gujarat, Jaunpur, and Malwa. In 1398-1399, Tamerlane invaded India and temporarily occupied Delhi.

After this shattering defeat, effective central authority re-emerged only under the Afghan Lodi dynasty which ruled from 1451 to 1526. Sikandar Lodi again extended the kingdom from the Indus to Bengal in the east. The last Lodi ruler, Ibrahim, fell in battle in 1526 at Panipat against the Mogul leader Babur, who had been summoned by Ibrahim's own emirs to depose him. Babur was then able to take possession of Agra.

9 Adhaidinkajonpara mosque in Ajmer. The original
Jaina school was converted into a mosque after its
capture by the Ghurids in 1198

10 The Qutb Minar, "tower of victory," built
under Qutb ad-Din Aybak from 1199 on.
In front and to the left is the mosque
Quwwat al-lslam, the oldest Muslim
building in Delhi.

11 Detail from outer wall of the Qutb Minar




After Delhi became the capital of Islamic rule in India in 1193, various "slave kings" erected enormous buildings, often using the remains of destroyed Hindu temples.

In the sameyear Delhi was captured, work began on the construction of the great Quwwat-ul-Islam ("Power of Islam") mosque.

In 1236 the magnificent sepulchre of Sultan Jitutmish was integrated into it. Qutb-ud-Din Aybak began construction of the Qutb Minar ( "Tower of Victory") in 1192.

Detail from the Qutb Minar, near Delhi



see also collection:

Indian Court Painting

The Fourteen Auspicious Dreams of the Jina's Mother


Krishna Battles the Armies of the Demon Naraka
(Ancient stories of Lord Vishnu)


Nanda and Vasudeva

see also collection:

The Love Temples of Khajuraho


"Kama Sutra"



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