Stunning exhibition from Aga Khan Museum Collection in Madrid
Videos on website: http://www.onculture.eu/story.aspx?s_id=897&z_id=25
4/6/2009 – 6/9/2009
Mo–Fr, Su: 10:00-20:00
Caixa Forum Madrid
Paseo del Prado 36, 28014 Madrid, Spain
T. +34-90-2223040, 91-3307300
The Worlds of Islam in the Aga Khan Museum Collection
Fondació “la Caixa”
Av. Diagonal 621, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
The Aga Khan Development Network/Aga Khan Trust for Culture
P.O. Box 2049, 1-3 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Fourteen centuries of a breathtaking history that extends from the Iberian Peninsula to the Far East unfold in Madrid these days, thanks to the stunning exhibition hosted at the CaixaForum Madrid, at the Paseo del Prado. This amazing exhibition that was inaugurated June 4 by the King and Queen of Spain, is jointly organized by the “la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects in cooperation with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture –the cultural arm of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Currently, AKTC is in the process of building a museum in Toronto (Canada) to provide a permanent home for its collections. Meanwhile, the works are being shown in various cities around the world. You can see the 190 rare artifacts included in the exhibition The Islamic Worlds in the Aga Khan Museum Collection until September 6, 2009. After its first showing at CaixaForum Madrid, the exhibition will travel to Barcelona where it can be seen from October 2009 to January 2010.
The exhibition sets out to examine current issues surrounding the polarity between east and west and to explore aspects of Muslim culture, which is also an integral part of Spain’s historic heritage. Through works of art from different periods and different parts of the world, the exhibition reflects the splendor of Muslim culture in all its diversity, providing proof of the pluralism of Islam, in its ways of interpreting the Qur’anic faith as well as in the variety of styles, materials and techniques involved in the creation of these works.
The exhibits feature significant and valuable items from practically every dynasty in the history of the Muslim world. These provide an overview of the Islamic world’s finest artistic achievements in wood, stone, gold, bronze, ivory, ceramics and textiles, and on parchment and paper. Visitors to the exhibition can see the different Islamic dynasties, identifying the territories over which each dynasty ruled following the break-up of the Abbasid caliphate at the end of the 9th century. The Umayyads held sway over al-Andalus, the Fatimids and the Mamelukes reigned in Egypt, the Ottomans in Turkey, and the Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India. The essential characteristics of Islamic courtly culture can be seen in generic portraits of respective sovereigns in profile. The works of art on display also emphasize the high cultural level of the Islamic courts responsible for spreading knowledge of Ancient Greece to the west via translations in Arabic.
Also reflected in the exhibition are the fundamental features of Islamic architecture, including a capital in the Roman tradition but with Islamic ornamental motifs, as well as beams and doors in carved wood. The most outstanding examples of painting are found in books illustrated with miniatures and portraits of kings and sultans.
The exhibits are divided into three large sections. The central section is devoted to The Qur’anic Faith while the other two guide viewers through various Islamic courts using as a metaphor a journey in two stages –From Cordoba to Damascus and From Baghdad to Delhi.
The Qur’anic FaithThe Qur’anic Faith
The Qur’an was a source of inspiration for the many artists, artisans and architects who created sumptuous examples of the holy book with beautiful calligraphy, as well as works of refined sensibility designed to spread the teachings of the Qur’an across the Islamic world. Copying verses of the Qur’an was regarded as a form of religious devotion, hence their presence in a wide variety of settings. Throughout this section, visitors can admire distinctive and highly decorative styles of Arabic script.
The Qur’an in different media. In this section, we see a splendid collection of Qur’ans from every geographical region, from 9th and 10th century folios written in gold originating from North Africa to a 19th century Indonesian Qur’an. Displayed along with these are pieces in porcelain, painted ceramic, gold and carved wood with inscriptions from the sacred text.
Mysticism. Mystics, known as Sufis or Dervishes, seek union with God through prayer and dhikr, the repetition of sacred words or phrases. One of the best-known mystics was the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi, whose followers, the Mevlevi Dervishes, have spread his poetry throughout the world.
Pilgrimage and prayer. The diversity of artistic styles seen in this section shows the impact of pilgrimage right across the Islamic world. Here, we find the many forms of religious art, varying according to time and place. Examples range from decorations on travel documents to murals from pilgrims’ houses in Egypt and representations of pilgrims’ personal recollections.
From Cordoba to DamascusFrom Cordoba to Damascus
Under the Umayyads, the Iberian Peninsula was part of a vast transcontinental empire extending from Cordoba to Damascus which became the pinnacle of human civilization. All new ideas came from the east, as literary and scientific works from Antiquity, lost after the fall of the Roman Empire but preserved in Arabic translation. So, too, did the works of great Muslim humanists and scientists which laid the foundations for the development of astronomy, mathematics and natural history. The artistic styles of Byzantium and Ancient Persia also spread along the trade routes.
Al-Andalus and the Magreb. Between 711 and 714 the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula. The Umayyad dynasty introduced an artistic style rooted in Syria with a combination of Roman-Byzantine and Iranian elements. In 756, after their overthrow in Syria, the Umayyads took refuge in al-Andalus and the art of the period showed distinctly oriental characteristics.
Egypt and Syria. In 750 the Abbasids toppled the Umayyads, and the hub of cultural and political life moved from Damascus to Baghdad. In the 10th century, when the Fatimids came to rule Mecca and Medina, Yemen and parts of Palestine and Syria, life at court was luxurious and refined. The Fatimid dynasty was deposed by Saladin in 1171. On his death, power passed into the hands of the Mamelukes, at a time when most of the buildings were monumental mausoleums with enormous domes designed to emphasize the personality of each leader.
Anatolia: the Ottomans. The objects displayed in this room date from the 15th to the 18th centuries. During this period the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal states dominated the area from the Middle East and Africa to India. The sultans encouraged the creation of an imperial style of art, while in the second half of the 16th century, portraits in relief became popular.
From Baghdad to DelhiFrom Baghdad to Delhi
In the 17th-century Arabo-Muslim invaders seized all the territories belonging to their former rival, the Persian Empire, uniting the lands between the Rivers Tagus and Indus to create a single entity.
Artistically, as a result of commercial and cultural contacts and the presence of Chinese artists, Far Eastern influences were added to the predominant Persian style.
Mesopotamia. In 750 Baghdad became the capital of the Muslim world. Ancient Persian culture had left its highly visible imprint on the artistic expression of the region. Trade with the Orient promoted a taste for the exotic, which is reflected in ceramics of the period. Books experienced a golden age with the publication of scientific and literary works.
Iran and Central Asia Central. In 651 Muslim forces conquered Iran, which became part of the Abbasid caliphate. Among pre-Islamic Iranian traditions were craftsmanship in glass and metal, stuccoed mural painting and the silk industry. Decorative motifs of the Near East, became part of Islam’s visual vocabulary, while one of the region’s most important contributions was the Shahnama (Book of Kings). In Iran, Muslims came under Chinese influence. 16th-century art opened up to foreign influences, with new metalworking techniques enabling craftsmen to produce art objects in openwork steel. The 17th century saw a growing interest in portraiture and later, Nasir al-Din Shah championed artistic and technological ideas from Europe.
India and the Mughals. Mughal art is characterized by its naturalism with portraits of sultans and other illustrious persons, depictions of Indian flora and fauna, and scenes showing important historical events during the sultan’s reign. Painting is one of the key expressions of Mughal art, used as a resource to accentuate the ruler’s authority.