This academic study is devoted to an important and complex – but often neglected – topic in the history of Islamic arts : what is ornamentation, why and for whom did Muslim decorate, is the decoration in Muslim arts only an “ornament” or do the ornamental motifs convey symbolic meanings? The book is divided into three parts. A first part deals with the historical, methodological, and philosophical difficulties of a contemporary approach to the so-called “Islamic ornamentation”. A second part evokes the different context, status, generic meanings of ornamentation, whether social, humanistic, or cosmological. A third part is devoted to the difficult question of interpretations and symbols in Islamic ornamentations: the epigraphy, the absence or restricted use of figurative images, the universal signs used in ornaments (geometric and vegetal motifs, centre and axis, light and radiance, weaving), the symbolic values and hermeneutic potentialities of the various historical ornaments found in the Islamic arts. The conclusion examines the relationship between the ornamentation and the Muslim religion and offers a few explanations why Muslims scholars before modern age talked so little about ornamentation.

The book includes an extensive bibliography, a general index, an index of quranic verses, and, gathered at the end of the book, around 500 pictures of architectures and objects presented in a chronological and systematic way.