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 Introduction to Islamic art

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PostSubject: Introduction to Islamic art   Sat Aug 20, 2011 11:50 am



Introduction to Islamic art





The Museum is in the process of renovating, expanding, and reinstalling its Islamic

Galleries in accordance with current thinking in the field and with modern museological practices. The galleries are currently projected to reopen in 2011. While they are closed, important objects from the collection can be seen throughout the Museum in various locations.



The Metropolitan Museum's collection of Islamic art, which ranges in date from the seventh to the nineteenth century, reflects the great diversity and range of Islamic culture and offers perhaps the most comprehensive permanent installation of Islamic art on view anywhere. Nearly 12,000 objects created in the cultural tradition of the world's youngest monotheistic religion (Islam, founded in A.D. 622, means "submission to God") have been assembled at the Metropolitan from as far westward as Spain and Morocco and as far eastward as Central Asia and India. While many of these objects were originally intended for decoration of a mosque or for use during worship, domestic and luxury objects in the collection reveal the mutual influence of artistic practice in the sacred and secular realms. In particular, the traditions of calligraphy, vegetal ornament (the arabesque), and geometric patterning are strongly expressed in most pieces on view.

To dispel a common misconception: Islam's supposed prohibition against figural art is confined to the religious sphere. As just one example, many representations of people are to be found in the department's outstanding assemblage of miniature paintings—strictly secular in nature—from the courts of Iran and Mughal India. Other strengths of the Metropolitan's collection include ceramics and textiles from all parts of the Islamic world; some of the finest Islamic carpets in existence from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and glass and metalwork from Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia.

Highlights from the department are presented in the Collection Database, organized by object classification (such as calligraphy, glass, or woodwork) and, within classifications, chronologically.

More about the Department and Its Collection

Although some seals and jewelry from Islamic countries were acquired as early as 1874, and a number of Turkish textiles in 1879, the Metropolitan Museum received its first major group of Islamic objects in 1891, as a bequest of Edward C. Moore. Since then, the collection has grown through gifts, bequests, and purchases, as well as through Museum-sponsored excavations at Nishapur, Iran, in 1935–39 and in 1947. Until 1932, when the Department of Near Eastern Art was constituted, all of these objects were overseen by the Department of Decorative Arts. By 1963, the volume of objects had increased to a point that necessitated an official departmental division between the ancient Near Eastern and the Islamic portions of the collection. In 1975, the Islamic galleries were relocated and completely renovated.

The complex of galleries and study areas administered by the Department of Islamic Art today includes the sumptuously ornamented Nur al-Din Room from Damascus, built in 1707 and typical of wealthy Syrian homes during the Ottoman period. It contains a fountain and flooring of richly colored marble, and the reception area features lavishly painted and gilded wood-paneled walls, with raised designs and poetic Arabic inscriptions, and high stained-glass windows permitting tinted light to enter.

Other exceptional holdings include, for example, a late-fifteenth- or early-sixteenth-century Egyptian carpet in green, blue, cream, and wine red, a masterpiece of Mamluk design; pages from an exuberantly illustrated copy of the Shahnama, or Book of Kings, created for Shah Tahmasp (1514–1576); a late-twelfth-century incense burner in the form of a feline, one of the largest and most stately of all Islamic bronze animals; the tugra, or calligraphic emblem, from an official decree of Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66), written in the Divani script; and a fourteenth-century glazed-ceramic mihrab, or prayer niche, from Isfahan, which would have served in a Muslim religious building to indicate the direction of Mecca.

The Department of Islamic Art has been involved in several unusual and very special collaborations. One, in 1992, involved the organization of a monumental exhibition, "Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain," that was mounted within the rooms of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, and subsequently at the Metropolitan Museum. Another involved a joint American/Moroccan effort to conserve and prepare for display in 1998 in Morocco one of the wonders of Islamic art, the great twelfth-century minbar (pulpit) from the Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakesh.



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