From the expansion of the Umayyad Empire in the ninth century until the fall of the Ottomans in the early 20th century, Muslim artists and artisans created works of art that circulated around the world. From China’s borders to Morocco, Spain to Mamluk Egypt and Syria, including the kings of the French palace, these works have adorned places of worship, royal courts and noble homes. This documentary is an invitation to discover treasures from Islamic art preserved in the Louvre in Paris and the “Metropolitan Museum of Art” (MET) in New York.
In internationally renowned museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the MET in New York, the collections of “Islamic art” show the richness of techniques and materials used by artisans who lived in the Islamic empires. . From Asia to Africa and Europe, they rethought Islamic art to release a new aesthetic.
These collections are today the material witness of a civilization that is not so strange to the West. Contrary to popular belief, Islamic art is not religious. They testify to an astonishing intersection of cultures and civilizations since antiquity.
Art and science
The ban on the use of human figures in religious buildings and the center of the Arabic language in the emerging culture gave birth to calligraphy during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty. Mosques are witnesses to an exceptional encounter between masterpieces of mosaic and foliage, borrowed from the Greek and Roman worlds, and an undeniable mastery of geometry in the scriptures.
The buildings of the major cities of the world are a testament to the richness of these cities, but also to an abundant artistic production. The great Umayyad mosques in Damascus and Cordoba, the Taj Mahal in India and Isfahan, the “blue city” in Iran, are a testament to an artistic wealth that required collaboration between several artists from different disciplines: glass craftsmen, chandeliers, goldsmiths, upholstery. etc., which used precious materials such as jade, marble, ebony, African rosewood and gold. So many traces of different art currents that have marked successive dynasties.
This aesthetic is also evidence of a permanent dialogue between art and science. The Astrolab, used by sailors and scientists to know the position of the planet and the stars, or the manuscript translated from the medicine book “De Materia Medica”, in Baghdad in IXe century, with so many other objects, allows us to discover a culture that has given a central place to scientific knowledge.
Since the Abbasid caliphate, which initiated a major translation movement, artists and scholars living in Islamic countries have tested very beautiful manuscripts, but above all a rich scientific knowledge that has been transferred to the West.
The intimate stranger
If the architectural art associated with the space of the mosque has borrowed an aesthetic based on calligraphy, flowers, colors and geometry, other places such as palaces, houses of notables or even decorative objects and books may have welcomed the design of people and animals.
The Monzón lion, found in the Louvre collections, comes from Al-Andalus (in Spain) and served as a fountain mouth in cast bronze. It was manufactured between XIIe and XIIIe century. At MET in New York we discover an Iranian tile panel (XVII)e), which represents a woman serving wine to a European. Evidence of a tonality that existed in Islamic art, especially in the illustrated books such as the epic poem “Shâhnâmeh” (The Book of Kings), written in early XIecentury by Ferdowsi, or “Jami al-tawarikh” (XIVe) by Rashid al-Din who does not hesitate to represent when he drew the “prophet” Jonah and an angel with Mongolian features.
These objects have traveled over geographies and eras. Thus, some techniques have also been transferred to the West, such as glassmaking in Italy or architecture in Spain. Objects made by Muslim artisans were used by Europeans, even for religious rituals, such as the baptism of Saint Louis. Made in Mamluk Egypt, it was probably imported during the reign of Louis IX (XIII)e), according to the Louvre. It served as the baptism of several kings in France, including Louis XIII and Prince Napoleon-Eugène, son of Napoleon III in 1856.
The journey with so-called “Islamic art” objects in the West is proof of an intimate relationship between the two cultures, according to the curators of the museums, which contain thousands of objects that are described as “Islamic art”, but which are also a human heritage.