Louvre Opens New Department Of Islamic Art

The Louvre in Paris is opening a new Department of Islamic Art that will have one of the best such collections in the world.

One treasure is this ivory pyxis of Prince Al-Mugẖīra, shown here in a photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons. It was made in 968 at Medina Azahara near Cordoba, Spain. Note that there are human figures on it. While many Islamic traditions forbid the depiction of people and animals, others such as the Moors of Spain, the Moghuls of India, the Persians of Iran, and the Ottomans of Turkey all had a long tradition of human portraiture.

This is just one of the many insights visitors will gain now that a refurbished and expanded wing of the museum has opened its doors with more than 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. The Department of Islamic Art will exhibit nearly 3,000 works, whose origins range from Spain to India and date from the 8th to the 19th century. The total collection numbers some 18,000 works from the Louvre’s collections and some on long-term loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

The recent furor over the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in an anti-Islamic movie has overlooked the fact that some Islamic traditions do create portraits of Mohammed, as this page from the University of Bergen makes clear. Of course these are positive portrayals, but they show that the Islamic world is not monolithic in its ideas of what can and cannot be shown. The Louvre did not state whether they have any such images on display.