From flowing calligraphy to luxuriant floral designs, from geometric star patterns to endless arabesques and lifelike birds and fish; 300 objects will showcase the astounding ornamental qualities of Islamic art in the period 900-1900.
Splendour and Bliss – Arts of the Islamic World will bring together many highlights of Islamic art. The exhibition, full of splendour and majesty, will focus on the ornamental character of Islamic art and on stories of culture, tradition and craft. In addition, writers, cooks and musicians will pay tribute to the sensuous nature of the objects in the exhibition in literary texts, recipes and pieces of music inspired by them. The results can be seen and heard in the exhibition and will play a role in a range of associated activities.
THE ISLAMIC WORLD AS A CENTRE
As Islam spread from the early seventh century onwards, an Islamic empire developed which, at its height, extended from Spain to China. Science, technology and art flourished at the various courts in the empire, where progress was often far ahead of that in other parts of the world.
Islamic culture has produced some magnificent art objects throughout its history, some of which found their way to the Far East and Europe. Merchants, craftsmen, pilgrims, diplomats, students and scientists travelled between the different cities, exchanging knowledge, technology, language, customs and art forms. Objects moved from one region to another along trade routes and as the spoils of war, leading to cross-fertilisation of forms and decoration.
Decorative patterns on tile tableaux and stucco panels, for example, show that these connections and this exchange existed not only between Muslim countries in the Mediterranean region and southern Europe. Ceramicists from China and the Islamic world also found inspiration in each other’s traditions.
ODE TO CRAFTSMANSHIP
Much of the art from the Islamic world features highly detailed ornamentation. The rich decorations have a religious character, reminding the faithful of all the wonderful things that await them in the afterlife. But that is not all. They also express a love of the good life, in stark contrast to the art being produced in Europe at the time, which emphasised torment and damnation.
Splendour and Bliss will unravel this unique, positive symbolism, and it will also consider how the objects were used and made. The exhibition will thus be an ode to craftsmanship. Ancient techniques like glass blowing, wood carving, calligraphy and rug making reveal stories of culture, tradition and patronage, and the role of Islamic culture in the world.
The Gemeentemuseum has one of the most important collections of Islamic applied arts in the Netherlands, with objects from Afghanistan, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Spain, Syria and Turkey. Splendour and Bliss – Arts of the Islamic World will feature many objects from this collection, plus a number of unique items on loan from other Dutch museums
The exhibition will be part of the museum’s long tradition of showing ceramics, glass and rugs from the Islamic world. In 1927 the Gemeentemuseum presented Islamic Art, an exhibition consisting mainly of objects on loan from collections abroad. In 1993 the museum presented the important al-Sabah collection in an exhibition entitled Islamic Art and Patronage: Treasures from Kuwait. This was followed by Oriental Glass in 2006, a small exhibition showcasing the Islamic glass collection. In 2013 the Gemeentemuseum organised an exhibition at the Escher at the Palace museum in which part of the collection was shown alongside work by M.C. Escher (Escher & Treasures from Islam).
The Gemeentemuseum is organising a programme of literary, culinary and musical events in association with Splendour and Bliss – Arts of the Islamic World, in collaboration with writers, chefs and musicians from the countries of origin of the objects on show. The museum is also launching a programme of tours and workshops for adults and children, and will be stepping up its activities in local districts of The Hague, to ensure that all residents have a chance to encounter this unique collection.