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Louvre Showcases Islamic Art

Published: 11/03/2012 01:18:37 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Celebrating the flourishing era of Islamic culture, the Louvre museum prepares to unveil a new wing for Arts of Islam, The National newspaper r (more)

CAIRO - Celebrating the flourishing era of Islamic culture, the Louvre museum prepares to unveil a new wing for Arts of Islam, The National newspaper reported on Sunday, March 11.

"The whole structure seems to be floating in mid-air," Mario Bellini, an Italian architect responsible with Rudy Ricciotti for the glass-roofed wing for Islamic art, said.

"There are no pillars, you see, and this was a very big challenge."     

Preparing to open to the public this summer, the new wing will exhibit more than 18,000 artworks from the Arab world and Europe, some for the first time.

Built with the Islamic veil in mind, the museum's new Arts of Islam wing was modeled on a delicate sheet of silk.

Erected within the museum, a curvilinear glass roof covered inside and out with sheets of golden metallic links will shelter art from the Islamic era, grouped together for the first time in one enormous gallery.

Designers say they aimed at creating a "gentle and non-violent integration" of an architectural design within a place of historic importance.

The collections will be displayed over an area of roughly 3,500 square metres, subdivided into only two levels.

The first floor, at courtyard level, will house works from the seventh to the 10th centuries.

The second, in the basement will exhibit works from the 11th to the 19th centuries along with a prestigious collection of carpets.

The idea of the huge museum was first suggested in 2002 by former French president Jacques Chirac when he declared his wish to see a dedicated wing of Islamic art at the museum.

Donating €31 million, France covered 30 percent of the whole cost, estimated at about €98.5 million.

The project's biggest sponsor, the Saudi Al Waleed Bin Talal Foundation, gave €17m as soon as the project was announced.

A further €30m was raised from individual and corporate donations, while €26m came from the rulers of Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan.

France is home to a sizable minority of six million Muslims, the largest in Europe.

Gorgeous Selection

The wide variety of exhibited items ranged from gorgeous selection of metalware from Syria, Ottoman ceramic tiles, the Mamluk emirs possessions and masterworks from Andalusia.

"The Louvre has, for example, the best collection in the world of luxury inlaid metalware made in Syria during the 13th century, the Ayyubid period, and owns the most famous basin ever made during the Mamluk era (1250-1517), the so-called Baptistère de Saint Louis, from the royal collections," Sophie Makariou, head of the Islamic arts department, told The National.

Working on the artifacts since 2006, 2,000 Ottoman ceramic tiles were removed from their frames to be fully restored and an entire collection of Egyptian stained-glass windows was subjected to a scientific and technical study, indispensable for their upkeep.

"We have also masterworks originating in Andalusia and some tombstones from Arabia," added Makariou, referring to a famous ivory box: the Pyxis of Al-Mughira, from the year 968.

Yet, some items remained ambiguous with no certain purpose known for its usage.

"The archaeology of the Islamic period is a peculiar one ... There is no funerary archaeology, which means that most objects were found, very often broken, in the setting where they were used," she said.

"Very often, as there were a lot of purely commercial diggings, the relevant information provided by a proper excavation was lost.

"The most precious objects of the past, metalwares or manuscripts, were preserved through collectors, whom history has not yet traced back as far as the Islamic realm," said Makariou.

Followingthe opening  of Islamic art museums in Cairo and Doha, the new Islamic art wing  at Louvre is a new addition to preserve the rich history of Islamic culture and arts.“Big progress has been made - the opening of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, totally redone with the help of the Louvre, the Aga Khan Trust for culture and with a French designer, Adrien Gardère, is a wonderful example of what can be achieved. The Doha Museum of Islamic Art is remarkable," she said.

“More things will come and are in progress.”

Reproduced with permission from