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Exhibit of Islamic Art at RISD



(originally posted to the H-Islamart list, but may be of interest to the
members of Bookarts_L, due to the manuscripts on exhibit)

Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art
224 Benefit Street
Providence, R.I. 02903-2723
tel. 401/454-6500

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 A.M.-5 P.M.


Glimpses of Grandeur: Courtly Arts of the Later Islamic Empires
September 24-December 26, 1999

At the height of their power, Islamic rulers commanded a vast and diverse
array of empires that extended from Spain to North Africa to India and
encompassed a wide variety of cultural traditions native to their local
geographic areas. This exhibition presents some of the varied artistic
products of the later Islamic dynasties: the Ottomans in Turkey
(1453-1924); the Safavids in Iran (1501-1732) and their successors, the
Qajars (1785-1925); and the Mughals in India (1526-1858). Many of these
objects depict courtly scenes or were made for use in court rituals.
One gallery of the exhibition is devoted to the book arts: calligraphic
pages of poetry, manuscript and album illuminations, and highly decorated
pen boxes. Calligraphy is the most respected art in the Islamic world. The
Muslim Holy Book, the Qur'an, is revealed through the calligrapher's pen.
A second gallery features RISD's pre-Safavid cenotaph (acc. no. 18.728), a
burial marker for an imam (holy man). The RISD cenotaph is the only intact
example of its kind now in a museum collection. A silk covering (for
example, acc. no. 55.536) would have been placed over the cenotaph. The
Museum*s cenotaph originally would have been viewed in a small
free-standing shrine of very similar dimensions to the room in which it now
rests.
Textiles played an important role in court display and in royal exchange.
Silk was the preeminent luxury fabric, prized for its sheen. Silk costumes,
like the Mughal robes displayed in the third gallery, announced an
individual's identity and social rank. Silk was an important commodity of
long-distance trade in the Islamic world, as were ceramics, rugs, and other
objects. The textile gallery features a sampling of these items.
The later Islamic empires in greater Turkey, Iran, and India possessed vast
economic resources and profited from diverse economic and cultural exchange
with each other and with the Far East and Europe. The objects in the
exhibition reflect this exchange and also showcase the distinctive style of
each empire. They are the result of generous artistic patronage and provide
a glimpse of the grandeur that characterize the courts of the later Islamic
empires during one of the most spectacular periods in the history of art.

This exhibition is the product of a graduate seminar at Brown University,
taught by Sheila Bonde, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, and
Aim=E9e Froom, doctoral candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York
University, and Theodore Rousseau Fellow, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York. The seminar and exhibition have been  funded by a grant to the RISD
Museum from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This publication has been
undertaken with additional support provided by the Watson Institute for
International Studies, Brown University. Wheeler Thackston, Professor of
the Practice of Persian and Other Near Eastern Languages, Harvard
University, translated the texts of the Ottoman papercuts; and Walter B.
Denny, Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst,
generously offered his expertise on a myriad of issues.

P.S.-The museum is a five or six-block uphill walk from Kennedy Plaza in
downtown Providence (the Bonanza bus runs from South Station to Providence
and stops at Kennedy Plaza; the Amtrak train is more expensive and runs
less often).

Jeffrey B. Spurr
Cataloguer for Islamic Art
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
Fine Arts Library, Harvard University
Fogg Art Museum
32 Quincy St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone  (617) 495-3372
Fax    (617) 496-4889

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