A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
January/February 2012, Pages 34-35
Splendid Islamic Art on View in Glorious Galleries at Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Elaine Pasquini
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.
During the Abbasids' reign, the outlying regions of their massive empire became more independent, and the far-reaching artistic achievements in northeastern Iran and Central Asia under the 12th century Seljuq sultans were brilliant and inventive. An outstanding example is the monumental bronze incense burner of Amir Saif al-Din Muhammad al-Mawardi in the shape of a lion. Exceptional for the refinement of its engravings, the Arabic calligraphic bands inscribed on its body provide a wealth of information, including the artist's name and date of creation. The head is removable so that coal and incense could be placed inside, and the body and neck are pierced to allow scented smoke to escape.
The Damascus Room is a reception chamber from the home of an upper-class Damascene family and an important example of early 18th century familial Ottoman architecture.
In each of the galleries, the floors and wall colors relate to the architecture of the region that is being represented. For example, the marble flooring in the Ottoman room came from Turkey.
"The opening of these extraordinary new galleries provides a unique opportunity to convey the grandeur and complexity of Islamic art and culture at a pivotal moment in world history," said Metropolitan Museum director Thomas P. Campbell. "The public will find galleries filled with magnificent works of art that evoke the plurality of the Islamic tradition and the vast cross-fertilization of ideas and artistic forms that has shaped our shared cultural heritage."
Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.