Splendid Islamic Art on View in Glorious Galleries at Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Pasquini, Elaine | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview
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Splendid Islamic Art on View in Glorious Galleries at Metropolitan Museum of Art


Pasquini, Elaine, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Following a massive eight-year renovation, world-class masterpieces of Islamic art from the 7th through the 20th centuries finally are on public view again at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum's former Islamic gallery reopened Nov. 1, renamed the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. That these priceless treasures from the Islamic world re-emerged in 2011-the year of the Arab Spring which brought hope, as well as an unknown future, to regions which produced some of these works-has not gone unnoticed and is a subject of animated discussion among lovers of Islamic art.

Some 1,200 exquisite items of ceramics, carpets, textiles, jewelry, glassware, sculptures, metalwork, calligraphy and paintings from the museum's 12,000-piece collection-one of the world's most extensive-are now presented chronologically in 15 galleries covering 19,000 square feet, providing visitors with a more rewarding museum experience. In an effort to create a beautiful and authentic setting for its treasures, the museum brought in 14 skilled craftsmen from Fez, Morocco to construct a courtyard based on 14th century Maghribi design. A cadre of scholars and planners, including Islamic department head Sheila R. Canby and associate curator and gallery coordinator Navina Haidar, contributed to the immense renovation and expansion.

"These items are all displayed in these galleries because they are connected by Islamic culture," research associate Marika Sardar told reporters during a gallery tour. "The objects are from regions that were either ruled by Muslims, or had a majority population that were Muslim. The art is not always religious in nature, but is connected by this common culture."

Highlights of the collection from each of the galleries are displayed in the introductory gallery, including a 10th century Iranian earthenware bowl of white slip with black slip decoration under a transparent glaze from the Nishapur gallery. Iran is well represented in the collection, due, in part, to the Met's excavations there from 1935 to 1947. The styles, themes and motifs presented in the introductory gallery occur throughout the other rooms.

On view in the area focusing on the Umayyad period (661-750), which was headquartered in Damascus, and the Early Abbasid period (750-1258) based in Baghdad, are outstanding examples of manuscripts and early Qur'an pages in Kufic script, some written on paper in ink, gold and opaque watercolor.

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