Foreign Yet Familiar: The Art of Islam at The Met and The Louvre

“You’re talking about a tremendous mix of world images, cultures — and the result that came out in the literature and the art of the Islamic world is very exciting.” –NAVINA HAIDAR, Curator, 

Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Today, we live in a world that is connected and global, but our connected and global world also has a history.” –JEAN-LUC MARTINEZ, President-Director, The Louvre Museum

Today, at a pivotal moment in world history, two great museums beckon us to explore the splendor of Islamic art, lifting the veil on our shared cultural heritage. The objects on display in the Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris reveal a roadmap of connections that explains why the “foreign” seems “familiar.”

The art of Islam reflects 14 centuries of changing political and cultural landscapes across three continents. The term “Islamic art,” coined by 19th century art historians, includes ALL ART produced in Muslim lands from the 7th century forward; from Spain to Morocco, Egypt, the Middle East, Central Asia and India to the borders of China. 

Universal museums like The Louvre and The Met help dispel the idea that cultures are exclusive when in fact they are intertwined.

Narrated by Philippe de Montebello, the former director of The Met for 31 years, “Foreign Yet Familiar” showcases extraordinary Islamic masterpieces highlighting connections between Western and Islamic traditions in Art, Science, and Literature.

Philippe de Montebello

Narrated by
Philippe de Montebello

"Shah Jahan on Horseback", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
verso: ca. 1630; recto: ca. 1530–50

Payag worked for the emperors Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan over the course of a remarkably long, seven-decade career, and his brother Balchand was also a talented painter with whom he collaborated on a handful of paintings. The attribution of this portrait to Payag, written in the border below the painting by Shah Jahan, was recently confirmed by the discovery of a microscopic signature on the golden tip of the emperor’s bow. 

Pierced Jug with Harpies and Sphinxes
dated A.H. 612/ A.D. 1215–16
With a carved and pierced outer shell that surrounds a solid inner container, this intricate feat of pottery emulates a metal object. The openwork–featuring Harpies (mythical birdwomen), Sphinxes, quadrupeds (four-footed mammals), and scrolls–was first painted with touches of black and cobalt blue. The entire jug was then covered in a transparent turquoise glaze. The Persian verses around the rim were written by the poet Rukn al-Din Qummi, and an anonymous love poem near the base includes the date of production.
Pyxis al Mughira
968 CE/357AH. 15cm x 8cm
The pyxis made in 968 CE/357AH for Prince al-Mughira (15 cm x 8 cm) is a portable ivory carved container that dates from Medieval Islam’s Spanish Umayyad period. It is in the collection of the Louvre in Paris. The container was made in one of the Madinat al-Zahra workshops, near modern-day Cordoba, Spain and is thought to have been a coming-of-age present for the son of caliph Abd al-Rahman III. (source: wikipedia)
Reciting Poetry in a Garden
Tile Panel, Iran, 17th century; stonepaste, painted and polychrome glazed.

From Safavid Iran, this tile panel titled Poetic Joust shows a young prince writing and reciting poetry to his teacher.

At the end of the 16th century, Shah Abbas the Great (r. 1588-1629) settled in Isfahan. He undertook important urban works there. Its palace, in particular, is made up of a garden in which pavilions are scattered. His successors added new buildings to it. On the walls there are fresco decorations and ceramic panels. They use compositions inspired by painters. The same style is found on the painted woodwork elements.

On this panel, two young men compete in a poetic jousting. One composes verses while the other recites them. This panel probably comes from a pavilion in the royal complex of Isfahan. Similar works were placed at the bottom of the walls, while the upper part was decorated with frescoes. Many of them were destroyed or dismantled at the end of the 19th century.

Stand for a Qur'an Manuscript
Circa A.H. 761/ A.D. 1360
Three layers of superb carving combining vegetal motifs and calligraphic inscriptions cover the surface of this Qur’an stand. The inscriptions include decorative arrangements of the words Allah, ‘Ali, and Muhammad, and blessings upon the Prophet and the Twelve Imams. In addition, they provide us with the information that the stand was made by Hasan [ibn] Zain ibn Sulaiman al‑Isfahani for endowment to a madrasa, or theological college, in the year 1360.
Louvre Monzon Lion
12th–13th Century, Spain
This lion, which served as a fountain spout, was found at Monzón de Campos (Palencia, Spain). Epigraphic analysis has dated it to the 12th–13th century. It is one of the few metal artifacts of the Islamic west to have survived from this period. According to a study published by P. de Gayangos in 1865, the lion was found at Monzón de Campos in the Spanish province of Palencia. It then entered the Islamic art collection of the famous painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal., pub-8763558367268451, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
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