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Developing the collection: during the Metropolitan Museum's eight-year redesign of its display of Islamic art a number of important acquisitions have been made, which further enhance the museum's presentation of the arts of Islam.


Since 2003 the galleries of the department of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum have been closed for renovation. While about 60 objects from the department's collection have remained on view in the museum, the vast majority have been in storerooms or undergoing conservation prior to the opening of new galleries for the art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. Even more under wraps during this period have been the acquisitions made in the past eight years. Fortunately, the lack of galleries did not dim the curatorial instinct for making additions to the collection.

To strengthen its collection of early Arab calligraphy, the department acquired a bifolium from the 'Nurse's Qur'an', a well-documented manuscript with a distinctive version of Maghribi script and a fascinating story of female patronage in medieval Tunisia. Because of provenance issues, the acquisition of archaeological material from the medieval Islamic world is increasingly challenging, and the department has limited itself to purchasing or accepting gifts with established lines of ownership outside the objects' countries of origin. This policy has also led to the acquisition of more works from later periods.

Continuing a trend begun during the curatorship of Stuart Cary Welch in the 1980s, the department has made important additions to its Mughal and Deccani Indian collection. The painting of an Indian Fruit Bat, identified as one of the natural history studies produced for Sir Elijah and Lady Impey in late 18thcentury Calcutta, and the magnificent Deccani dagger from the collection of Stuart Cary Welch, exemplify the museum's commitment to rounding out its collection in this area. This emphasis is reflected in the new galleries: two rooms are devoted to the art of Later South Asia, including a space co-curated by the department of Asian art for paintings and textiles from the Hindu courts of North India.

Fortunately, several donors have kept faith with the department despite its closed galleries: Hillary Dumas made a significant gift of carpets to the museum in 2009; Marshall and Marilyn Wolf presented their collection of over 300 pieces of Turkmen jewellery and have supported the publication of a catalogue. Gifts such as these are of great importance, not only because they add to the collection, but because they encourage new scholarship and new audiences, some of whom may become collectors themselves.

1 (previous page) Qur'an Manuscript

Egypt, probably Cairo, c. 1320

Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on parchment with tooled leather binding, 26.5x19cm

Purchase in 2006 with the assistance of gifts in memory of Newton Foster and funds from various donors

The manuscript consists of an illuminated section from a Qur'an, including the last part of the fifth juz' (one of 30 sections into which the text was divided), verses 114-47 of the fourth chapter (Surat al-Nisa'). The text is written in cursive muhaqqaq script, copied inside bands of clouds. Qur'ans produced during the Mamluk sultanate (which ruled Egypt and Syria between c. 1250-1517) are characterised by the nearly square format of their text blocks, set within illuminated bands or borders. Unlike the other pages from this volume, which have five lines of script to the page, the final page, shown here, contains only two lines of text and is embellished with a leafy, spiral decoration that contrasts with the strict geometry of the gold interlace above and below. Similar vine scrolls on a hatched ground appear in the earliest dated Mamluk Qur'an, made for Sultan Baybars al-Jashnagiri in 1305 to 1306, as well as a gold interlace band surrounding the text block. The details and decorative elements of Baybars' Qur'an, such as the blue outlines of the text block with darts of varying lengths, served as a model for Mamluk Qur'ans produced during the first half of the 14th century.


2 Carpet

Turkey, 15th-16th century

Wool, 276.8x203cm

Gift of 2009 from the collection of Hillary Black Dumas and Dr D. Gilbert Dumas

Small-pattern 'Holbein' carpets are named after a famous portrait by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98-1543), which depicts a similar carpet draped over a table. (In fact, despite the connection with Holbein, these carpets also appear in 15thcentury Italian paintings.) The pattern of this early Turkish carpet consists of small octagonal medallions and diamond-shaped strapwork; it is the prototype of a design common to many later carpets. The interlaced border resembles kufic script, but is in fact an illegible knot pattern. Similar borders are found on another group of carpets called 'Lotto', after paintings by Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480-1556) in which they appear. 'Holbein' carpets were woven in Anatolia as early as the 14th century and became popular in Europe, where they were copied by Spanish weavers from the 15th century onwards. These carpets were also exported eastwards, and appear in Timurid painting from Herat (present-day Afghanistan). The popularity of octagonal medallions continued in the carpets of Central Asia well into the 19th century, where they can be found on Turkmen carpets.


3 Dragon and Clouds

Attributed to Sadiqi Beg (1533/34-1609/10) Iran

Ink and watercolour on paper, 19.1x12cm (painting), 35.9x23.3cm (page)

Purchase in 2010 with assistance from the Friends of Islamic Art Gifts

A dragon strides across a landscape in this drawing, twisting its neck and raising its head towards a cloud-filled sky. The calligraphic style of draughtsmanship, with lines of varying thickness and broken contours, as well as small details of the dragon's head and neck, point to the hand of Sadiqi Beg, a leading artist in Iran from the mid-1570s until around 1610. He served as the director of the royal library under Shah 'Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) where he introduced a range of new subjects, from copies of European prints to images of working men. Sadiqi Beg also depicted dragons in a number of drawings, which, like this one, were most likely intended for inclusion within albums. Although he illustrated manuscripts for both Shah Isma'il I (r. 1576-77) and Shah 'Abbas I, he also produced many single-page drawings which grew in popularity in the last quarter of the 16th century and were collected by Iranians and Mughal Indians. The memoirs of Jahangir, the Mughal emperor (r. 1605-27) allude to a scandal involving Sadiqi Beg and a work stolen from the Safavid royal library which the artist attempted to sell in India.


4 Dagger with Zoomorphic Hilt

India, Deccan, Bijapur or Golconda second half 16th century

Gilt copper and ruby (hilt), steel and gilt copper (blade), length 39.6cm

Purchase in 2011 with assistance from the Lila Acheson Wallace Gift

This exceptional dagger is one of several examples attributed to the Deccan (south central India) in which the hilts depict animal forms in combat. Additionally, portraits of Sultan 'Ali 'Adil Shah of Bijapur (r. 1558-80) show him wearing daggers with zoomorphic hilts similar to this example. Here, a dragon attacks a lion that in turn has overcome a deer. All of the animals, as well as a parrot with a worm in its beak, have ruby eyes. Although the three-way animal combat has been associated with the Hindu deity Garuda, the form of each animal recalls a different source. The dragon is more sinewy and square-headed than the Chinese-style dragons found in Mughal art, and more closely resembles European depictions. The deer, standing on its hind legs with its front legs bent, brings ancient Near Eastern deer to mind, but must derive from a model closer in period and region to India than ancient Iran or Iraq. While the grooved steel blade is most likely not original, its slight curve at the tip is in keeping with Indian dagger blades of the 16th and 17th century.


5 Incense Burner

India, Deccan, Bijapur or Golconda late 16th-early 17th century

Brass, ht 22.9cm

Purchase in 2007 with additional funds from the Friends of Islamic Art Gifts

During the 16th and 17th centuries various centres in the Deccan produced impressive metalwork in a range of techniques and forms. This incense burner is made of brass which has been incised, cast and worked in different areas of its surface. The main body of the burner is in an hour-glass form, bearing a further wide receptacle above it with an overall spiral fluted surface. The stem is decorated with an overlapping leaf design rising from a circular base with etched and beaded border patterns. The upper portion has a cinched-waist profile enclosed within a beaded and movable ring. The cover of the burner is missing, but would presumably have contained pierced openings to release the smoke. This incense burner closely resembles one carried by the Bijapur ruler Ibrahim 'Adil Shah in a painting by the artist 'Ali Riza, dated to around 1620 to 1630 (British Museum). In the painting the incense burner also lacks a cover, and its size, shape and lobed surface decoration follow those here. However, the striking spiral treatment of the lobing in this incense burner lends a dynamic surface tension that is absent in the painted version.


6 Great Indian Fruit Bat

Circle of Bhawani Das

India, Calcutta, c. 1777-82

Pencil, ink and opaque watercolour on paper, 59.7x83.2cm

Purchase in 2008 with the assistance of anonymous gifts, the Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, the Virginia G. LeCount Bequest (in memory of the LeCount Family), the 2007 Benefit Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher and Rogers Funds, the Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and Gift of Dr Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family

This watercolour belongs to the tradition of Company painting--works made by Indian artists for English patrons (usually employees of the East India Company). Its anonymous artist is believed to have been among the circle of painters who worked for Sir Elijah Impey (who served as Chief Justice of Bengal from 1774-82) and Lady Impey. They collected specimens of Indian flora and fauna at their estate in Calcutta and commissioned local artists to depict them. Although originally intended as a scientific record, the Impey natural studies are considered among the strongest achievements of the Company school. This striking painting depicts a Great Indian Fruit Bat (Pteropus giganteus) with one wing outstretched. The work is closely related to another image of a bat by Bhawani Das, one of only three known artists who worked for Lord and Lady Impey.

7 Bifolium from the Mushaf al-Hadina (Nurse's Qur'an), Tunisia, probably Qairawan c. AH 410/AD 1019-20

Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on parchment, 44.5x60cm

Purchase in 2007 with assistance from the James and Diane Burke Gift (in honour of Dr Marilyn Jenkins-Madina)

This bifolium comes from an exceptionally well-documented Qur'an manuscript, of which the colophons are held in the Raqqada National Museum of Islamic Art in Tunisia. These inform us that 'this copy of the Qur'an was written ... for the honorable al-Hadina', the former governess of Abu-Manad Badis ibn al-Mansur, the Zirid ruler from 996-1016 AD. Abu-Manad Badis ibn al-Mansur was 12 years old when he came to power, which suggests that his governess may have continued to work in the inner royal circle for some time after his accession. The Qur'an 'was written, vocalised, decorated, gilded and bound by 'Ali ibn Ahmad al-Warraq ... under the supervision of Durra, the secretary'. Finally, the colophon states, 'Fatima al-Hadina ... endowed this copy of the Qur'an to the mosque of the city of Qairawan [i.e. The Great Mosque] ... in the month of Ramadan 410 [December 1019-29 January 1020]'. According to historical accounts, Fatima al-Hadina was a captive Christian who converted to Islam and rose to importance at the Zirid court. The style of the script is notable in the way the letters combine the angularity of kufic calligraphy with the exaggerated, rounded terminal forms found in Maghribi calligraphy. In North Africa Qur'ans continued to be produced on parchment long after paper had been adopted in the central and Eastern Islamic lands.

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Author:Canby, Sheila
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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