“Our task is to reveal the radiant face of this civilization and its undisputable contribution the world.” – Henri Loyrette, President / Director of the Musée du Louvre
On 22 September 2012, visitors to the Louvre could enjoy –for the first time- the collection of the new Department of Islamic Art exhibited at the Cour Visconti under an undulating glass and metal roof that resembled a flying carpet, work of architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini. The structure has been hailed as the greatest milestone for the Louvre ever since the Grand Louvre project.
Apart from the structure, one only needs to mention that the collection covers thirteen centuries of Islamic art and comes from three different continents for the reader to realize the breadth of its spectrum. Nevertheless, it is not only the breadth, but also the aesthetic value of the objects that makes this collection unique. Take for example, the Pyxis of al-Mughira (c. 968), a jewel Islamic art in al-Andalus. The Pyxis is an extraordinary example of the ivory carving and engraving tradition in the late Umayyad Caliphate period. Only the Pyxis of Zamora in Madrid is comparable in aesthetic quality.
From al-Andalus (in present-day Spain and Portugal) where the Pyxis was produced, one can travel to the other extreme of the medieval Islamic World, where another masterpiece is on show at the Museum, namely the Candlestick with Ducks from Khurasan, made of engraved copper inlaid with silver. The twelfth/thirteenth century object is a perfect example on the exceptional craftsmanship of coppersmiths at that part of the world, but that is not all: the objects to enjoy include metalwork, glasswork, ceramics, tiles, manuscripts, carpets, textiles, to the end of the list. A list that is, probably, too extensive for some tastes.
From Syria (or Egypt) comes the Basin of Saint Louis (known as the Baptistère du Saint-Louis, c. 1330), a masterpiece of Mamluk metalwork crafted by Muhammad Ibn al-Zain. The hammered brass inlaid with silver and gold is of exceptional quality, the decoration is exquisite, and the iconography is interesting as it shows Mamluk princes holding the ‘instruments’ of their offices.
Sophie Makariou, the Department’s Director, holds that “the civilization behind Granada’s Alhambra, Taj Mahal, Cairo’s great monuments, the mosques of Istanbul, or Isfahan’s Shah Mosque is a great universal civilization.” This fact, in itself, poses numerous challenges, one of them having to do with interpreting the collection and presenting it to the audience. Still, the viaion cannot be clearer, and Makariou puts it clearly:
“The Louvre is restoring this department to its rightful place in the historical chorus of civilizations.”