New Islamic Art Galleries at the Louvre

Guest blogger Saranna Biel-Cohen explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Louvre in Paris

Paris: Last year we featured a series of blog posts about the new Islamic wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 2012 was also the year of another significant opening in the world of Islamic art: Islam, at the Louvre in Paris.

Director of Islamic Art, Sophie Makariou explains the title was chosen to incorporate the expanse of the Islamic world throughout the centuries from Spain to India, The Empire of Islam, as it was known. Islam highlights cultural value of these works and their historical contribution spanning 1,300 years and three continents.

Bellini structure
Image credit: www.aasarchitecture.com

Bellini Structure
Image credit: nytimes.com

Comprising 18,000 objects dating from the 7th to the 19th century, the gallery explores the breadth and creativity of the civilization and is the largest collection of Islamic art in Europe. The collection is housed under an undulating structure made of aluminum and glass in the Louvre’s Visconti Courtyard, the most significant architectural addition to the museum since I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids of 1989. The project, by Italian architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti, took six years to complete. Modeled on a silk scarf, the structure seems to float in mid air between the neoclassical buildings. Walking in to the gallery, there is an immediate sensation of being in a tent, with light pouring in from all sides.

The collection opens with an introduction to the Islamic world, beginning with the Prophet’s exile in 632 (Hegira in Arabic) and the subsequent conquest of Persia, Byzantium and beyond. The early period of Islam is represented by glass, metal and ceramics.

Vitrines of glass stamps, Egypt, 700

Vitrines of glass stamps, Egypt, 700

The gallery focuses on the intricacies of decorative texts on religious and secular objects and its various influences. Arabic writing predates Islam by a century. Then different forms of writing, Qu’ranic script and secular were used to adorn pieces, describe their function or offer protection to an object. The later incorporation of Persian, an indo-European language, further developed the use of decorative text and many objects with Persian poetry are on view. Read more about decorative calligraphy here.

A sleek, industrial looking metal staircase leads to the lower-ground floor. Large Turkish mosaics greet you at the bottom. They were found by a team of French-American archaeologists in the 1930s at Antioch (Antakya), once the capital of Syria, in the residential neighborhood of Daphne. A Roman tradition, mosaic making spread across the Roman Empire and was then used by subsequent civilizations for religious, public and private use.

Phoenix Mosaic, Antakya, 6th Century

Phoenix Mosaic, Antakya, 6th Century

This particular mosaic depicts a phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from ashes, bordered by pairs of ram heads. It was discovered in 1936 almost completely intact. Greek and Roman classical sculpture can be found in a two small rooms above the mosaics. Statues of Greek and Roman gods are housed there, a memory of an earlier civilization that had occupied parts of the region covered in the rest of the galleries.

Marble sculpture of goddess, Artemis, Akshehir, Turkey, 2nd Century

Marble sculpture of goddess, Artemis, Akshehir, Turkey, 2nd Century

There are large vitrines of Egyptian textiles dating from the 6th century. They bear Roman and Byzantine iconography that later evoked Christian interpretations. Cherubs picking grapes, playing instruments and dancing references the Roman god of wine, Bacchus while Christians interpreted this theme of wine as reference from a passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus is a vine and God the vine grower.

Cupid Picking Grapes
Linen and wool tapestry, Egypt, 6th Century

The Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) ended the Sassanid Empire. Iran became a part of the Islamic Empire and many of the objects in the gallery are associated with the mix of cultures that ensued.

Ceramic stars, Iran, c. 665

Ceramic stars, Iran, c. 665

Hughes Dubois/Musée du LouvreA silver and gold inlaid casket, Iran, 14th-century

A silver and gold inlaid casket, Iran, 14th-century
Image credit: Hughes Dubois/Musée du Louvre

The Islamic Empire expanded west to Spain and east to India. By the 16th century the Islamic world made up 30% of the global population.

Carved ivory pyxis of al-Mughira, Cordoba, c. 968
Image credit: Hughes Dubois/Musée du Louvre

Wood doors inlaid with ebony and ivory, Egypt c. 1380-1420

Wood doors inlaid with ebony and ivory, Egypt c. 1380-1420

An extensive collection from the Mughal Empire (about 1526-1858) includes intricate armor, elaborate daggers, ceramic tiles and Indian carpets. Many of the carpets were made in factories founded by Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) in Fatehpur Sikri, capital of the Mughal Empire for only about 10 years. To learn more carpets, click here.

Philippe Ruault/Musée du Louvre

Louvre Islamic Galleries
Image credit: Philippe Ruault/Musée du Louvre

Indian carpets

Indian carpets

Jade dagger with horse head handle inlaid with rubies, emeralds and gold, MughalPeriod, 17th CenturyImage credit: www.bbc.co.uk

Jade dagger with horse head handle inlaid with rubies, emeralds and gold, Mughal
Period, 17th Century
Image credit: www.bbc.co.uk

The Ottoman Empire (14th–20th Century) stretched from the Balkans and Anatolia, around the Mediterranean basin, and as far as Morocco. Ottoman carpets are displayed, as well as large and small scale Iznik ceramics.

Ottoman ceramic wall, Turkey, c. 1560–80Image credit: Raphaël Chipault /Musée du Louvre

Ottoman ceramic wall, Turkey, c. 1560–80
Image credit: Raphaël Chipault /Musée du Louvre

Funding for the 98 million Euro gallery was provided by the French government and supported by endowments from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan. Of the 18,000 objects in the collection, 3,000 are currently on view and 300 objects will move to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Guest contributor Saranna Biel-Cohen lives and works in London. She holds a Master’s Degree in History of Art from University College London with a focus on Modern Indian Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part V

Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: This is the last in a series of posts that came out of my visit to the Islamic Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a consequent conversation with Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art there.  This art collection is presented in fifteen new galleries that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year.

The galleries are titled Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. Dr. Ekhtiar, in speaking of the nomenclature of the collections, said, “the name of the galleries speaks to the parameters of our collection, our department’s collection”.  Instead of the overarching phrase “Islamic Art” that suggests a monolithic construction of an Islamic culture; this title is in fact a clue to the physical and historical reconfiguration of these galleries, and a particularly apt one in these times of misleading narratives of Islam worldwide.

Through the course of my conversation with Dr. Ekhtiar we walked chronologically through the numbered galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) that are organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century). I have followed the same chronology here, bringing us today to the last two galleries 463 and 464 showing Mughal and later South Asian art.

Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We haven’t discussed South Asia previously but the time period (16th – 20th centuries) that we will look at today is contemporary to the arts of Safavids and later Iran and the overlap and exchange of culture is visible in the artistic forms of the time as well. Gallery 463, for example, presents the arts of the Sultanate, Mughal and Deccan courts from about 1450 through the nineteenth century. This gallery contains an extensive selection of jeweled arts that were practiced in South Asia, including jade carving (which was highly prized in China and was part of a commercial exchange with it). But like in Gallery 462, the two object forms that immediately capture attention are the carpets and the illustrated manuscripts’ folios.

Carpet with Scrolling Vines and Blossoms
Object Name: Carpet
Date: ca. 1650
Geography: Northern India or Pakistan, Kashmir or Lahore
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The scrolling vegetal designs that we saw in last week’s post are visible in the image on the left as well. The carpet below, on the other hand, with a niche that nestles a flowering plant, appears to be designed vertically and possibly for hanging on the wall rather than laying on the ground.

Carpet with Niche and Flower Design
Object Name: Carpet
Date: mid-17th century
Geography: India or Pakistan, Kashmir or Lahore
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Interestingly, these styles remained active in the Iranian and South Asian regions. The early 20th century example below, from a Saffronart auction in March this year displays a combination of these design details – the visible Arabesque niche in the carpet is occupied by intricate and delicate flora and fauna, surrounded by a border.

“Akbar Hunting with Cheetahs”, Folio from an Akbarnama
Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Illustrated album leaf
Date: ca. 1604
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Illustrated manuscripts, similarly, remained an active part of the region through the 20th century as indicated by the folios on display in this gallery and in Gallery 464. Akbar, considered the greatest Mughal rulers (r. 1556 – 1605), established royal ateliers and commissioned illustrated manuscripts, including the Akbarnama that was a chronicle of his reign.

His successors Jahangir (r. 1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) continued this patronage,an example of which is the exquisite Padshahnama, or the Shah Jahan Album illustrated through the 1640s. These reigns saw a diversity of manuscript production that included Indian, Persian and European elements (like linear perspective and European motifs). A few of the folios shown below evidence this multitude of subjects like studies of animals, flora and fauna, portraiture,mythological narratives that were produced simultaneously at that time. It also underlines the development of a unique idiom within the South Asian region in the arts of the book both linking it to and distinguishing it from the Safavid and later Iran workshops.

“Rama Receives Sugriva and Jambavat, the Monkey and Bear Kings”, Folio from a Ramayana
Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Reign: Akbar (1556–1605)
Date: ca. 1605
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child in a Domestic Interior
Painting by Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Illustrated single work
Date: early 17th century
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Shah Jahan on a Terrace, Holding a Pendant Set With His Portrait”, Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painting by Chitarman (active ca. 1627–70)
Object Name: Album leaf
Reign: Shah Jahan (1628–58)
Date: recto: 1627–28; verso: ca. 1530–50
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Black Buck”, Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Album leaf
Reign: Jahangir (1605–27), recto
Date: recto: ca. 1615-20; verso: ca. 1530–50
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adventures of Hamza or the Hamzanama was another narrative commissioned by Akbar that recounted the stories of Hamza, an uncle of Prophet Mohammad.

“Misbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Parran to his House”, Folio from a Hamzanama (The Adventures of Hamza)
Attributed to Dasavanta
Artist: Attributed to Mithra
Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Reign: Akbar (1556–1605)
Date: ca. 1570
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Both Galleries 463 and 464 also have folios from the Islamic Deccan courts and later 19th century court arts of the Jain, Rajput, Pahari and “Company” style paintings. These are placed in conjunction with the Islamic art galleries to  accurately represent the continuum of South Asian art, not compartmentalized by religion. There was a rich dialog between the two contemporaneous traditions that is visible throughout these galleries.

For example, the image below on the left, of a nobleman on a terrace is an 18th century folio from a late Islamic Mughal center in Bengal, and on display in these galleries. The image on the right, from a Saffronart auction in April this year is the portrait of a Hindu Bikaneri maharaja. Such cross currents in portraiture, amongst other subjects, is a constant in these artistic traditions.

Portrait of a Maharaja
Late 17th Century
Bikaner School

Nobleman on a Terrace
Object Name: Illustrated single work
Date: ca. 1780
Geography: India, Murshidabad
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ragamala paintings, also available for viewing, are a pictorial narrative mode for musical notes (ragas) that originated in the Islamic Deccan kingdoms but found their way to the ateliers of princely states in Rajasthan.

And finally, the “Company” school paintings, shown in Gallery 464 often documented the flora, fauna, topography and people of the land. These watercolors were commissioned by the British and executed by Indian painters in a European style.

Chronologically the last space in the newly configured galleries that we have been visiting over the last few posts, Gallery 464 can also be physically entered and understood independent of the remaining galleries.However, that is true of any of the fifteen galleries. Choosing your personal path through these spaces engenders a distinct experience each time.

Text (calligraphy), shapes (geometric, vegetal, figural, flora, fauna, zoomorphic), materials (ceramic, wood, metals, paper, textile), techniques (luster-painted, gilded, enameled, painted, carved), objects (utilitarian, luxurious,  decorative, religious) – these are just a few of the forms that can be conceptually and visually followed through these galleries. Recurring, in various ways, in various objects, they tell a story of a cultural continuum, not an overarching structure – this is a testament to the impeccably curated experience of these new galleries.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ride with me. The Saffronart blog hopes to keep taking you along for more of these!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part IV

Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: Last month I had started posting about the Islamic Art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year. For those reading this series for the first time, here is a little introduction to these new galleries. Organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century), these fifteen new galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) present historically rigorous exhibits of arts that flourished under the aegis of Islamic rulers through many centuries. These galleries are also incredible in representing the diversity of mediums and contexts of these artistic practices.

In my last post, I had described the highlights of Galleries 459 through 461, that present the arts of the Ottoman Empire (ca 1299 – 1922), as shared with me by Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art.  Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today, I look at Gallery 462 and its arts of Safavids and later Iran (from the 16th – 20th centuries). We have followed Iran from the 7th century onwards from Galleries 451, 453 and 455 and this gallery brings our understanding of art from the region almost to contemporary times

Iran was united and ruled by the Safavid dynasty from 1501  -1722.  Shah cAbbas who ruled from 1587–1629 was an important patron of the arts and this period saw an expansion and revival of production in arts for local consumption and commercial exchange with Europe. Ceramics in the style of Iznik pottery from Turkey that we saw in the last post and luster ware that has also been discussed previously were both encouraged extensively as is visible in the objects in this gallery.  But when you enter this space, there are a few works of art that dominate the conversation – the carpets and the illustrated manuscripts.

Persian Garden Carpet
Object Name: Carpet
Date: second half 18th century
Geography: Iran, Kurdistan
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Under Shah cAbbas, carpet weaving and textile production was transformed into a state industry, designed and produced in royal workshops at the new capital of Iran – Isfahan, in southern Iran. There are many different types and styles of carpets on exhibit here – medallion, garden, a possibly royal carpet, the “Polonaise” and carpets known as ‘Portuguese carpets’.

The Persian garden carpet or the char-bagh, (on the left)  represented a bird’s eye view of a traditional garden, which included water channels, fish swimming in these channels, birds and trees.

The “Seley Carpet” below, in style of a medallion carpet, is an exquisite example of the combination of medallion and vegetal motifs. These carpets centered around a medallion, similar to what appeared on book covers and texts, suggesting a cross pollination of designs between different art forms. These medallions were then surrounded by scrolling vegetal designs.

The Seley Carpet
Object Name: Carpet
Date: late 16th century
Geography: Iran
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This ‘Portuguese’ carpet below shows the central medallion with floral vines combined with explicit maritime scenes with ships sailed by Europeans in the four corners, possibly testifying to an active export and mercantile exchange between Europe and Iran at this time. Just these few examples of the pieces exhibited in this gallery showcase the complexity and diversity of carpet production in Iran at this time, especially under Shah cAbbas.

“Portuguese” Carpet with Maritime Scenes
Object Name: Carpet
Date: 17th century
Geography: Northeastern Iran, Khurasan
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Rustam’s Fourth Course, He Cleaves a Witch”, Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp
Abu’l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Artist: Painting attributed to Qadimi (active ca. 1525–65)
Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Reign: Shah Tahmasp (1524–76)
Date: ca. 1525
Geography: Iran
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The other highlight in Gallery 462 are the intricate folios of the Shahnama or “Book of Kings”. This is one of the great treasures from the rule of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524 – 1576)  the second ruler of the Safavid dynasty. It was commissioned and made in the royal workshop. The Shahnama is a Persian national epic based on an oral tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times and was versified by Firdausi in the early 11th century. It contains within many Zoroastrian threads with the ideas of polarities, of good and bad – an illustration also intended as education to the rulers and princes. This particular manuscript of the Shahnama is the most luxurious Persian manuscript ever produced and the best artists were employed by the royal workshop – painters, calligraphers, binders, illuminators with two generations of artists working on these manuscripts. The Met has 78 illustrations out of a total of 258 illustrated folios, presenting epic love scenes, battles of fantastical creatures with humans or among animals. There are multiple folios on display at any time in the gallery, with seating available to engage with them at leisure.

If you visit please do set aside some time for these folios. They are intimate in size but so detailed and beautifully rendered. I find myself noticing new details in them with each successive visit.  I have also been linking the title of each work (immediately under the image) to it’s individual museum page. This allows you to zoom in and look at enlarged sections clearly. If you cannot visit the museum, I would recommend using this feature to do the images justice, especially for today’s post.

Next week, in the last post in this series, we will visit the remaining two (out of fifteen) galleries, showcasing Mughal and later South Asian art. Stay tuned!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part III

Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: For the last two weeks, I have been posting about the Islamic Art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year. For those reading this series for the first time, here is a little introduction on these new galleries. Organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century), these fifteen new galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) present historically rigorous exhibits of arts that flourished under the aegis of Islamic rulers through many centuries. These galleries are also incredible in representing the diversity of mediums and contexts of these artistic practices.

In the post last week, I had described the highlights of Galleries 454 through 458, as shared with me by Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art.  Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today, I look at the arts of the Ottoman Empire (ca 1299 – 1922) that are placed in galleries 459, 460 and 461. Centered in present day Turkey, the Ottomans first emerged as a small principality at the time of the break up of the Seljuq Sultanate in Anatolia and the instability caused by Mongol rule. They subsequently expanded towards the east and west, defeating the Mamluk sultanate (discussed in the last post) in 1517, making them the strongest Islamic state in the late 15th and 16th centuries.

The Greater Ottoman Empire
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 459 and 460: Ottoman Art

The Ottoman period, especially in the late 15th and 16th centuries, was defined by the royal arts, centered in Istanbul and various other artistic  and commercial centers. This era saw a further development of calligraphy, manuscript production, ceramics, carpets and textiles, amongst others.

Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66)
Object Name: Tughra
Date: ca. 1555–60
Geography: Turkey, Istanbul
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Süleyman‘s rule (1520 – 1566) saw the most powerful Ottoman presence and patronage of the arts, as is reflected in the calligraphic signature on the left in Gallery 460. The tughra was the official individualized seal and signature used by each Ottoman ruler. The aesthetic and skillfulness achieved under Süleyman’s rule is evident in the artistic masterpiece of his signature that went beyond calligraphy to include other Islamic art motifs like floral and vegetal  vines.

Iznik was the center of ceramics under the

Vase
Date: first half 16th century
Geography: Turkey, Iznik
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ottoman rule and saw a continuation of the use of stone paste and blue and white colors. Ceramics at this time often imitated metal works. There is also a use of swirling calligraphic elements in some on the pottery that reflects the tughra used by the rulers. This is referred to as the ‘tughra-illuminator’ style. The example below demonstrates not only the ‘tughra illuminator’ style but also echoes the shape of mosque lamps from the 13th century made in Egypt that we saw in the previous post in Gallery 454 and that is also copied below to the right for your reference.

Mosque-lamp-shaped Vessel with Arabic Inscriptions
Object Name: Mosque lamp
Date: 1525–40
Geography: Turkey, Iznik
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar
Object Name: Mosque lamp
Date: shortly after 1285
Geography: Egypt, probably Cairo
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This gallery also has examples of royal carpets that were produced in Cairo, Egypt, and exported to the Ottoman court in Istanbul.

However, the production of carpets was not exclusively for royal use. Gallery 459 has grand carpets that were made and exported to Europe. These carpets were very popular in Europe from the 15th century onwards and can frequently be seen in paintings as well. They have come to be known by the name of the artists who depicted them. The ‘Holbein’ carpet below is named after the artist Hans Holbein the Younger who used a similarly patterned carpet in a portrait he had painted.

Holbein’ Carpet
Object Name: Carpet
Date: 15th–16th century
Geography: Turkey
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 461: the Damascus Room (18th century)

A recreation of an upper class winter reception room, the Damascus Room provides us with a clear example of late Ottoman architecture. Originating in Damascus, Syria, it also suggests the wide ranging influence of the Ottomans over the provinces it ruled over. This room in the museum consists of the original ceiling and walls, constructed of fine woodwork, and containing original inscriptions. You can read more about the history of this room and its configuration here.

I had promised this would be the final post, but to do these galleries justice, I am going to end this one here. Next week, I will talk about art from Iran, from the 16th to 19th centuries. And the week after, we’ll look at Mughal South Asia and 19th century Company paintings. Till then, I leave you with an image of the intricately constructed, beautiful Damascus Room. Make sure to visit!

Damascus Room
Object Name: Period room
Date: dated A.H. 1119/ A.D. 1707
Geography: Syria, Damascus
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part II

Josheen Oberoi explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: The Islamic Art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year. Organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century), these fifteen new galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) present historically rigorous exhibits of arts that flourished under the aegis of Islamic rulers through many centuries. These galleries are also incredible in representing the diversity of mediums and contexts of these artistic practices. In a post last week, I had described the highlights of Galleries 450 through 453, as shared with me by Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art.  We left off at Gallery 453 with the art of Iran and Central Asia in the 9th – 13th centuries.

Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information.

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 454: Egypt and Syria (10th – 16th centuries)

The greatest extent of the Fatimid caliphate (909–1171)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today, we move back west to present day Syria and Egypt. The Fatimid dynasty ruled from 909–1171 AD. A threat to the Abbasid caliphate (that was centered in Iraq), the Fatimids founded the city of Cairo in the 10th century, making it their capital.

They were followed by the Ayyubid dynasty (1171 – 1260), which expanded its control to Syria and Yemen.

The greatest extent of the Ayyubid sultanate (1171–1250)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Following these two ruling dynasties was the Mamluk sultanate (1250–1517). Decorative art thrived in these three periods, including the continuation of luster painting on ceramics that had flourished under the Seljuqs.

The greatest extent of the Mamluk sultanate (1250–1517)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

One significant achievement of the late Ayyubid and Mamluk rule in the arts was the development of enameled glass. Enameled and gilded glass involves application of gold/and or enamel on the surface of a glass object, which is then fired in the kiln to fix these materials on the glass. This was a highly valued medium, requiring a very intricate set of skills. The popularity and skills spread to Europe from here, with Venice becoming the center of enameled and gilded glass production by the fifteenth century. This gallery has a beautiful selection of enameled objects, especially lamps that would have been used to light up mosques.

Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar
Object Name: Mosque lamp
Date: shortly after 1285
Geography: Egypt, probably Cairo
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An important example is this lamp on the left that was dedicated to an officer, a bowman in the Mamluk dynasty and is inscribed accordingly. The emblem of two crossbows against the red shield is repeated nine times on the object.

While you’re in this gallery, make sure you look up at the ceiling, which is lit by lamps that echo those on display from Egypt and Syria. However, these were in fact blown locally in Brooklyn, New York on commission from the museum. You will encounter such details throughout the galleries, tying in the heritage of the art in the showcases to artistic practices that continue in the present day.

From this gallery, we took a detour to a space directly connected to it, Gallery 458. Gallery 458 is a Special Exhibitions gallery with a changing rotation of exhibitions related to Islamic art. It is currently showing an exhibition of contemporary Iranian art.

Gallery 455: Iran and Central Asia (13th – 16th centuries)

The shaded portion indicates the Ilkhanid period in Iran, 1256–1353
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We have already looked at Iran and Central Asia till the 13th century under the Seljuqs in Gallery 453 in the last post. This L shaped Gallery 455 now takes us back East, to Iran and the surrounding areas in the 14th and 15th centuries.  It covers the Mongol, Turkmen, Timurid, and Uzbek dynasties in Iran and Central Asia. The Mongols who invaded this region are called the Ilkhanids (1256 – 1363). They brought an end to the cAbbasid caliphate (that we’re already familiar with) and established their center in northwest Iran.

Bowl with Flying Bird Design
Object Name: Bowl
Date: second half 13th–14th century
Geography: Iran
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Since the Mongols were based out of China, there is a lot of Chinese imagery visible like dragons and fish, birds and clouds depicted in the Chinese style, more of a wash and linear.  There is again an attempt to recreate the look of porcelain.

These galleries also celebrate the flowering of the arts of the book among  the Ilkhanids and subsequently Timurids.

The highlight of the gallery, however, is a mihrab, a prayer niche showing the direction of prayer which would be Mecca. This is from the Ilkhanid dynasty and it comes from a school in Iran and is a quintessential Islamic ornament – it has the arabesque, abstract vegetal infinite patterns, calligraphic elements, different registers of calligraphy and geometry.  It is made of cut glazed tiles, chipped away like a puzzle and fit together. Its dark blue comes from cobalt that was easily found in the region.

Mihrab (Prayer Niche)
Object Name: Mihrab
Date: A.H. 755/A.D. 1354–55
Geography: Iran, Isfahan
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The gallery, from one of its ends, then flows into Gallery 456, which is a court based on late medieval designs of Moroccan courts, with dadoes of glazed tiles. This was created by a dozen Moroccan craftsmen from Fez who came to New York and built it on site. The court is conceived around four pillars from 15th century Spain – from the Nasrid dynasty – that are the only historical pieces in this gallery. Centered around a fountain, this court celebrates the continuity of the crafts of these regions and provides a space for reflection.

While you’re here don’t miss the small information screen that chronicles the making of the court, including the process of cutting and laying the tiles for the intricate designs for the dadoes. It is not only informative but also quite fascinating in allowing us to see the processes and skills required for this living craft.

You can also see and hear a short commentary on the making of this court on the Metropolitan Museum’s youtube channel here.

Gallery 456 – Moroccan Court
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 457: Spain, North Africa and the Western Mediterranean (8th – 19th centuries)

Folio from a Qur’an Manuscript
Object Name: Folio from a non-illustrated manuscript
Date: ca. 1250–1300
Geography: North Africa
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adjacent to the Moroccan court, this gallery is devoted to art of Islamic Spain, North Africa, southern Italy and Sicily. As a  result of a collaboration with the Hispanic Society, the gallery includes a beautiful display of holy books – early and late Qur’ans, Hebrew bibles,  and two Hebrew books that use the same style of ornamentation as Muslim books. This shared visual vocabulary is also seen in tiles from Morocco and Grenada, from palaces and madrassas.

Tile
Date: second half 15th century
Geography: Spain
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Next week’s final post will look at the arts of the Ottoman Turks from the 13th century through 1924, arts of Iran from the 16th – 19th centuries and arts of the Mughals and later South Asia. In the meantime, I hope you all have an opportunity to browse through the many links in this post!

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