The Arts of Islam – Treasures from the Nasser D Khalili Collection

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

22 June - 23 September 2007

This significant exhibition presents the finest display of the Arts of the Islamic world ever seen in Australia. It is a rare opportunity to experience rich and diverse artistic achievement from the 7th to the 19th centuries.

Created for sultans, princes and merchants, these treasures include exquisite glass, ceramics, metalwork and jewellery, Qur’ans and illustrated manuscripts, magnificent textiles, carpets and paintings.

Over 350 masterpieces reveal the far-reaching contact between the Islamic empires and their conquered lands from Spain and Morocco, across Northern Africa and Egypt to the Middle Eastern nations of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Palestine, and as far east as Mongolia, India and China.

from The Arts of Islam, Art Gallery NSW, exhibition events leaflet.

The pieces chosen for this exhibition were selected from the vast holdings of the Khalili Collection to present a comprehensive and panoramic view of the arts of the Muslim world. As the aim of the exhibition was primarily educational, the display – which was designed by the Sydney architect Richard Johnson – followed a chronological timeline for the most part, with the majority of objects divided between four historical groups. The exhibition opened with an introductory section on Islam and its spread, the Prophet Muhammad and the common ground between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. ‘Adaptation and Innovation’ explored the art produced between the 7th and the 10th centuries, a transitional period in which many of the foundations of Islamic art were laid. Early copies of the Qur’an were shown alongside ceramics, metalwork, glass and textiles, many of the latter reflecting earlier Byzantine and Sasanian artistic traditions.

‘The Splendours of Baghdad’ covered art from the medieval period (10th – early 13th centuries), demonstrating the outstanding achievements of artists working for the Abbasid court and its contemporaries, and the technical innovations associated with this period. ‘Phoenix Rising’ covered the mid-13th to the 15th centuries, illustrating the arts produced in Iran, Central Asia, the Middle East and Turkey in the wake of the Mongol invasion during the Ilkhanid, Mamluk and Timurid periods. The art of this period is very rich in intricate detail, seen to best effect in the illumination of Qur’ans and manuscripts, of which several examples were included. Prominent in this display were the gold fittings for a saddle and associated horse trappings and belt attachments and the illustrated folios from the celebrated Jami‘ al-Tawarikh (‘The World History’) of The Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din.

‘The Age of Empires’ was devoted to the art of the Ottomans, Safavids, Mughlas and Qajars (16th – 19th century). This period saw the development of blue-and-white and Iznik ceramics and tiles, fine carpets and textiles, richly enamelled and jewelled objects and exceptionally beautifully illuminated Qur’ans and illustrated manuscripts, best exemplified by the Qur’an and the 10 stunning folios from the Shahnamah (‘Book of Kings’) produced for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp. The exhibition closed with a display showing the interaction between the Muslim world and Europe and the cross influences seen in arts produced in the later 19th century.

At the very heart of the exhibition, under a magnificent dome of light, ‘Pilgrimage and Prayer’ was devoted to the practice of the religion of Islam. This display included prayer books, scientific instruments used to determine the direction and times of prayer, depictions of the holy places in Islam, pilgrimage scrolls and textiles associated with the two holy sanctuaries at Mecca and Medina.

A one-day symposium, a series of lectures, gallery talks and a wide range of educational and cultural programmes accompanied the exhibition.


Exhibition Catalogue

Exhibition Venue