Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition at Louvre’s Salle de la Maquette (19 January-8 April)

Guest blogger Saranna Biel-Cohen reviews Lebanese artist Walid Raad’s contemporary installation at the Louvre 

Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition”,  Louvre's Salle de la Maquette (Installation view)

Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition”, Louvre’s Salle de la Maquette (Installation view)

Paris: Contemporary media artist Walid Raad is currently showing a work at the Louvre in conjunction with the opening of the new Islamic galleries in the museum. Raad, born in Lebanon, now based in New York City, was trained in photography and video art, and has exhibited worldwide in major expositions including documenta 11 and the Venice and the Whitney Biennales amongst others. He is best known for his work, Atlas Group, which deals with the contemporary history of Lebanon with particular emphasis on the wars in the country between 1975 to 1991. Another project, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow. A History of Art in the Arab World, begun in 2007, critically examined the heritage of the Middle East and the geopolitical issues that have come to define the region in contemporary society and media.

To mark the opening of the Islamic Galleries, the Louvre invited Raad to take part in a collaborative project which will span three consecutive years. The first part of this project is currently on view until April 8, 2013 in an exhibition called “Preface to the First Edition” which includes a video, a sculptural installation and a publication.

In the basement of the museum, visitors can see the foundation of the Louvre, originally built as a fortress in the 12th Century. Raad’s installation is in a pocket just off these foundation walls. Neon vertical lights are unexpected in that setting and they invite visitors to experience a contemporary conversation about the museum’s newest gallery. Metal stencils hang from the ceiling and bright white lights are projected onto them, creating linear shadows on the walls, resembling doorways or corridors. Raad’s use of light and shadow shape the four walls of the space, on one wall, a video of blurred images and objects is periodically projected. His work discusses trauma of the region, displacement of objects and globalization of Arab art, themes that he has explored in previous projects.

Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition”,  Louvre's Salle de la Maquette (Installation view)

Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition”, Louvre’s Salle de la Maquette (Installation view)

The Raad and Louvre collaboration is another example of heightened interest in both the ancient and contemporary art of the Islamic world from museums around the world. “Over the past few years, I have been fascinated by the emergence of new art museums, galleries, schools and cultural foundations in cities such as Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Cairo, Doha, Istanbul, Ramallah and Sharjah, among others. I am intrigued by the increased visibility of the makers, sponsors, consumers and histories of “Arab art,” and more so by the acceleration in the development of new infrastructures for the visual arts in the Arabian Gulf.” – Walid Raad on his work at dOCUMENTA 13.

The Louvre’s new and extensive Islamic galleries really define it as a global museum, and with its new location opening in Abu Dhabi, a deeper connection to the Arab world is solidified.

Read more about Raad’s work in this Art Newspaper interview with the artist.

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.

Sadequain — A Muralist Par-Excellence

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart profiles some of the achievements of the renowned Pakistani artist, Sadequain

New York: On November 7-8, 2012, Saffronart will host its inaugural auction of the Art of Pakistan. The auction will showcase an exceptional group of Pakistani works from modern masters like Sadequain, Ahmed Parvez, Jamil Naqsh and Anwar Jalal Shemza and contemporary artists like Imran Qureshi, Mohammad Ali Talpur, Naiza Khan, Ayaz Jokhio, Shazia Sikander and Nusra Latif Querishi. This auction offers Indian and international collectors a rare opportunity to appreciate the richness and diversity of the art created in Pakistan over the last 60 years, acquire some the finest examples of this art, and become part of an important cultural dialogue between Pakistan, India and the rest of the world.

Sadequain (1930-1987) was one of the country’s most prolific artists, and his career has served as inspiration for several artists. Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, also known as Sadequain Naqqash or just Sadequain, is considered a master muralist and the father of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. He shot to fame at the young age of 31, when his work won recognition at the 1961 Paris Biennale. The October 16, 1962, edition of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro noted, “Sadequain adds up the impression of space, density, volume and the reality of matter, which transforms an abstract thought into a material fact in plastic.”

Two years later, Le Monde et La Vie, Paris, reported in April that, “The multiplicity of Sadequain’s gifts is reminiscent of Picasso.” In his lifetime, Sadequain is said to have painted more than 15,000 pieces including gigantic murals, intriguing canvases, innovative calligraphic works and exquisite drawings.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Sadequain painted more that 45 murals, donating most to public institutions in Pakistan, India and other nations. Unfortunately, only a few survive. Our guest contributor, Ali Adil Khan, an avid collector of South Asian art and antiquities based in Toronto, encapsulates the artist’s achievements as the premier muralist of Pakistan:

Niilofur Farrukh’s review of public murals titled ‘Art without social barriers’ in the July 14, 2007 issue of Gallery prompted me to build on her thoughts, as she touched on Sadequain’s achievements as an artist and muralist par-excellence of Pakistan.

Her very detailed and articulate descriptions of the colossal mural in the turbine hall of Mangla Dam and the ceilings of Lahore Museum and Karachi’s Frere Hall reminded me of visiting those sites as a teenager some 25 years ago and wondering about the man behind such marvelous creations. While I never got to meet Sadequain in person (a great loss and regret on my part), my admiration for him and his work has never seized to end and multiplied many folds since.

Sadequain loved to work on a large scale and may well have painted more square feet than Michelangelo. I wanted to pickup from where Niilofur left off, provide the mammoth dimensions of Sadequain’s murals, and highlight the work that he has done and left outside of Pakistan. I have used as reference the excellent documentation of Sadequain’s work by S. Amjad Ali in his book titled Painters of Pakistan.

Sadequain
Treasures in Time
States Bank of Pakistan

In 1955, Sadequain painted his first mural in Jinnah Hospital, Karachi. However in my research, I failed to find the dimensions, title and condition of the mural. Working feverishly from August-October 1961, Sadequain completed a mural for State Bank of Pakistan spreading 8 feet x 60 feet titled ‘Treasures of Time’. This mural is Sadequain’s towering masterpiece of his ‘Blue and Ochre’ period. It celebrates the intellectual achievements of man, and highlights 46 major figures divided into five main sections. It is said that in between 1962-63 during his visits to Paris, he completed a mural for the PIA office there. Again, I was unable to find the dimensions, title, condition and whereabouts of that mural.

Sadequain
Saga of Labor
Mangla Dam, Karachi

One feature of Sadequain’s metamorphic skill, an aspect of the vitality of his art, was his unbelievable creative strength and energy. In 1967, Sadequain painted the 180 feet x 23 feet wall of the turbine hall of Mangla Dam in less than 3 months. Titled ‘Saga of Labour’, the artist illustrates the age of progress and industrialisation by beginning with a man using his muscles to break stones and concluding with man using his brain to mechanise, build and develop.

Sadequain
Quest for Knowledge
Punjab Public Library
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation

After the Mangla mural, in the same year Sadequain painted four murals in Lahore, two for the Punjab University Auditorium, one for the University Library and one for the Punjab Public Library titled ‘Quest for Knowledge’. Again, the dimensions and state of condition of the murals are not available.

In 1968, Sadequain continued to be prolific and held monthly shows in Karachi at the unfinished auditorium of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. During this period he produced murals ranging from 18 feet x 6 feet to 28 feet x 4 feet on the 1965 war with titles such as ‘Shaheed’, ‘Confrontation’ and ‘Triumph’. Whereabouts of these is also not available.

Towards the end of 1970, it is documented that Sadequain painted a large mural that he donated to the Naval Headquarters in Karachi and was later shifted to the Pakistan embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. In April 1972, he painted the magnificent ‘Sura Yaseen’ from the Holy Quran on 240 feet long wooden panels and donated it to the Lahore Museum, where it is still displayed. In the first half of 1973, he completed the ceiling of the Lahore Museum titled ‘Evolution of Mankind’.

Sadequain Mural at Lahore Museum
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation

In 1976 Sadequain painted two large murals, each 56 feet x 12 feet, illustrating some verses of Iqbal for the Sports Complex site for the Asian Games in Islamabad. The mural depicted the struggle of the nations of Asia and Africa. In 1979, Sadequain painted a large calligraphic mural in Abu Dhabi. The dimensions and condition of the painting are unknown.

Sadeqauin
Mural at Aligarh Muslim University
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

From November 1981 to December 1982 Sadequain visited India and during this time made huge murals, first at the Aligarh Muslim University in copper cut-outs and then calligraphic and figurative murals at the National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad and later at the Banaras Hindu University. Finally he executed in very large size the 99 names of Allah in the Indian Institute of Islamic Research at New Delhi.

Sadeqauin
Mural at Banaras Hindu University
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

In early 1986, Sadequain began work on painting the gigantic 140 feet x 70 feet ceiling of Frere Hall. This huge mural was titled ‘Al-ardh-o-was-samawat’ (the Earth and the Heavens) and unfortunately was left incomplete due to Sadequain’s untimely death.

Sadequain
Mural at Frere Hall in Karachi
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

There must be many more unaccounted murals and large size paintings that Sadequain executed during his travels to Europe, North America and the Middle East. I am aware of a few such at the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa that require preservation and restoration.

Sadequain is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of the last century that South Asia has produced and the world is now coming to recognise him. There is a dire need to take stock of Sadequain’s works in private, public and corporate collections, and in different locations of the Pakistan Foreign Office and retrieve, restore and preserve them for future generations.

Well-known private collectors of Sadequain’s works in Pakistan should seriously consider entrusting their collections (either on loan or as bequeaths) to the National Art Gallery and museums for restoration and safekeeping in the interest of preserving a national treasure. Examples of such generosity can be commonly seen in national art galleries and museums across Europe and North America, where large collections of national and international art and antiquities have been build from generous gifts and donations of private collectors.

An example of such is a recent teamwork between myself, an heir of a local collector and a Canadian museum, whereby a rare large 5 x 3 feet canvas by Sadequain from his Cobweb Series executed in 1968 was retrieved from a basement of a home and made available to be acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. In the end, it was a win-win for all as the masterpiece stayed in Canada and was exhibited in the spring of 2008 at the opening of ROM’s new Christopher Ondatjee South Asian Gallery to be cherished by the growing South Asian community of Toronto. This happened because of the generous donation of the current owner, Mustafa Siddiqui, son of the late Dr Iqbal Siddiqui, a renowned scientist who had acquired the work from Ali Imam’s Indus Gallery in the late ‘60s and brought it to Canada.

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Adil has organized numerous exhibitions of South Asian Art in North America including  “Image and Identity: Being Ethnic” and “Cosmic Energy and Tantric Enlightenment: Art of Youngo Verma” which has received widespread critical acclaim. He has contributed notable articles on South Asian art to leading dailies including The Dawn Online Edition and Newsline of Pakistan besides being invited to share his expertise at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Art Gallery of Mississauga and the 14th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka, amongst others. 

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

%d bloggers like this: